CCH names five new winners of $2,500-a-year college scholarships

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) has awarded $2,500-a-year college scholarships to five students who succeeded in high school while coping with homelessness.

Also commended were 13 past winners, rising sophomores, juniors and seniors, who also receive $2,500 renewal awards. Thanks to donors who fund these scholarships, through the 2015-16 year, CCH will have awarded more than $235,000 to 50 students since 2004.

The 2015 winners are Catherine Jones, Aja Lowrey, Jennessa Martinez, and Amanda Sepulveda, all of Chicago, and T’Prinn Ingram of Aurora. 

Daihana Estrada, our program’s newest college graduate, was featured speaker in a June 25 awards ceremony hosted by Loyola University Law School, 25 E. Pearson Street.

New and renewal scholarship winners, and recent graduate Daihana Estrada
New and renewal scholarship winners, and recent graduate Daihana Estrada

Daihana, a 2010 winner, earned her bachelor’s degree in political science last fall from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She works as a paralegal in Chicago as she prepares to apply to law school.

“I want to become an immigration attorney, to help people who go through what my family went through,” said Daihana.

Daihana became homeless at 17. Her parents were deported to Mexico after they applied for legal residency in Utah, following 20 years working in the U.S.

“Because of them, I became the type of person that I am, and I stayed resilient. My Dad always said to get an education,” Daihana said.

Daihana and two of our 2015 winners are profiled in a front-page Chicago Tribune story.

The Law Project at CCH launched the scholarships in 2004 to encourage and showcase homeless youth with whom it works. In 2014, 94% of the 333 clients represented by our legal aid attorneys were homeless students or youth.

Selected from 24 applicants, the 2015 winners are:

2015 Scholarship Winners (from left): Aja Lowrey, T’Prinn Ingram, Jennessa Martinez, Amanda Sepulveda and Catherine Jones
2015 scholarship winners (from left): Aja Lowrey, T’Prinn Ingram, Jennessa Martinez, Amanda Sepulveda and Catherine Jones

T’Prinn Ingram, West Aurora High: T’Prinn will pursue pre-medicine studies at UIC. She was involved for four years in Upward Bound at Northern Illinois University and her school book club. A six-year member of the Aurora Public Library’s Teen Advisory Board, she served four years on the Citizen Advisory Panel that helped select the design of Aurora’s new city library. T’Prinn joined the CCH Statewide Network on two advocacy trips to Springfield during  her senior year.

Catherine Jones, ACE Technical Charter: Considering a career in business, Catherine will attend Illinois College in Jacksonville. She was active in dance, cheerleading and National Honor Society, and in her senior year also participated in Student Council, soccer and Student Ambassadors.

Aja Lowrey, Walter Payton College Prep: Aja will attend the University of Illinois at Champaign, with plans to major in biology and one day work as a physical therapist. Captain of the Payton bowling team and manager of its first girls’ a cappella group, Aja travels to Indianapolis every other weekend to work two overnight shifts at a restaurant. She is also dance leader at her church.

Jennessa Martinez, North Side College Prep: Jennessa will go to the Art Institute of Chicago to prepare for a career as an art therapist and artist. She honed her talents studying and teaching at After School Matters and the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance. In her senior year, Jennessa supported herself by working almost full-time for an upscale caterer.

Amanda Sepulveda, Lake View High: Amanda will study music and biology at DePauw University, with plans to become a microbiologist. Ranked in the top 5% of her class, she was a Key Club officer and studied at After School Matters, including improvisation and event planning.

Also honored were 13 rising sophomores, juniors and seniors. They attend Concordia, DePaul and DePauw universities, Lake Forest College, Moraine Valley Community College, UIC, Western Illinois University, and two historically black Southern colleges, Benedict and Tougaloo.

CCH scholarships help graduating seniors who experienced homelessness, some for most of their lives. Long focused on helping Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students, suburban students also were eligible this year. CCH scholarships complement other scholarships and grants awarded the students, reducing what they need to borrow to complete a bachelor’s degree.

Because of generous support from donors and funders, the scholarship program will raise its yearly award by $500, to $2,500. The scholarships are funded by private donors and by grants from The Osa Foundation, Sisters of Charity, BVM, Susan W. Pearson Memorial Fund, and the North Shore-based Student Alliance for Homeless Youth.

Also thanks to a generous incentive created by Robin Lavin, president of The Osa Foundation, three more students will receive a laptop for maintaining a “B” average or better. Twelve students will have earned this honor in six years, with rising sophomores Kristen Lang and Mahalia Crawford and rising junior Gesenia Viviescas qualifying this summer.

Ten scholarship recipients have graduated with bachelor’s degrees, 34.5% of the 29 students so far eligible to do so. This compares well per a national study that showed in 2013 just 9% of students from the lowest income bracket ($34,160 or lower) had earned a bachelor’s by age 24 (University of Pennsylvania and Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, February 2015). If including two additional scholarship students who completed associate or nursing degrees, our scholars’ completion rate is 41%.

The 2015 Scholarship Selection Committee was served by Ashley Allen, a Speakers Bureau member and high school program director at Horizons for Youth; Brandon Dunlap, a 2005 scholarship winner and Kendall College graduate; and Patricia Rivera founding donor of the scholarship and retired director of the CPS homeless education program, now directing shelter-based tutoring for Chicago HOPES.

Also, on the committee were attorney Thomas Lysaught, a CCH Board member and scholarship donor; CCH case intake coordinator Ali Heinen; CCH social worker Monica Mahan; Claire Sloss and Anne Bowhay of the CCH development/media staff.

– Anne Bowhay, Media, with photos by Betsy Neely Sikma

– Video by Shruti Sharma and Claire Sloss