Five high school seniors have won $10,000 college scholarships awarded by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) on Thursday, June 27.
CCH offers a renewable scholarship of $2,500 a year to students who succeeded in school while coping with homelessness. Our new 2019 recipients are five students living in Chicago and suburban Ford Heights and Westmont, teens who graduated from schools in Chicago, Evanston, Oak Park, and Dyer, Indiana.
The public was invited to attend the 5:30 p.m. reception and 6 p.m. awards ceremony hosted by Loyola University Chicago School of Law, 25 E. Pearson St.
CCH scholarships will assist 21 students in the coming school year. Students will attend colleges and universities across Illinois as well as in Georgia and two historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Washington, D.C. and South Carolina. Also, a $500 book award is given to past winners who go on to graduate school; three awards will be given in 2019-20.
The 2019 scholarship winners are:
Alexandria Bolling, Chicago – Howard University, Washington, D.C.
An aspiring English teacher, Alex graduated from Evanston Township High School. She was active all four years on the debate team and a senior co-captain. To secure a better high school education, Alex’s mother sent her from Louisiana to live with an aunt’s family in Evanston. After the family was evicted two years ago, getting to school required Alex to make three-hour daily commutes to and from the South Side, where she doubles-up with other relatives.
“Traveling took away valuable study and homework time. By the time I got home, I would be exhausted,” said Alex – who now celebrates the scholarship and tenacity that got her into Howard, “my dream school.”
Tavarion Laquon Foster, Chicago – Stillman College, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Tavarion will attend Stillman College, the first in his family to go to college.
“I plan to become an educator, attending an HBCU, being mentored and guided by professors who may have a similar experience as mine. This will shape me to be the best teacher I can be,” he wrote in his scholarship application.
A graduate of the Instituto Health Science Career Academy, Tavarion participated in three sports, a business club, and the service club over three years, earning a 3.5 GPA. He was inspired by school-led medical missionary trips to Haiti and Columbia.
Tavarion and his brothers grew up living doubled-up in a household of 24 people, including an aunt and great-grandmother. He helps cover his expenses by working at a clothing store since his junior year.
Ja’shawn McClendon-Muhammad, Chicago – The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Ja’shawn will pursue pre-medical studies at U. of I. He graduated from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, where he earned a weighted GPA of 4.1. He participated in Future Farmers of America, yearbook, and the vet science club.
Ja’shawn’s family struggled to stay housed, with several moves that required him to switch schools, including high schools. In his two years at the Southwest Side ag school, Ja’shawn was “always willing to help out with any of the animals we have (chickens, cattle, turkeys, alpaca, hogs, and companion animals), even if that means giving up his lunch period or staying late after school,” his animal science teacher wrote.
“Being homeless not only pushed me to succeed academically, it also pushed me personally to become better than myself and to serve a greater purpose,” Ja’shawn wrote.
Rita Miles, Westmont – Saint Louis University, Missouri
Rita graduated from Fenwick High School in Oak Park, where she was active in Broadcasting Club, mock trial, and the Blackfriars Guild Crew. She also worked year-round since 9th grade, juggling 15 hours a week or more for a health club and a cruise line.
Her family coped with housing instability, requiring Rita to double-up with older sisters during high school. As her housing situation stabilized, Rita’s grades rose to mostly A’s her last few semesters.
Rita is eyeing a major in social work, “hopefully following in the footsteps of my social worker. I want to be what Mr. Leece was to me: a person who cares enough to ask the right questions, not only to get an answer, but to help find the right one.”
Kaneisha Perry, Ford Heights – Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights
Kaneisha was raised in Ford Heights, long recognized as one of the poorest suburbs in the U.S. Her family coped with domestic violence while living in extreme poverty. They moved in and out of shelters and often stayed in homes without a refrigerator, hot water, or enough food.
Kaneisha won a scholarship to attend Illiana Christian High School in Dyer, Indiana – but a month into freshman year, her family had to move to a shelter out of town. So Kaneisha could continue at her new school, her Mom asked a neighbor couple who work as Christian youth workers if Kaneisha could move in with them. She stayed throughout high school, developing a close relationship with the Fajardo-Heflins.
The couple “tutored the heck out of me,” Kaneisha said. That helped boost her grades to a 3.4 GPA during junior and senior years.
After participating extensively in high school and church choirs, drama, and service clubs, Kaneisha plans to study social work and music at Trinity Christian College.
“After I graduate from college, I want to return to Ford Heights and found a performing arts program that would help keep kids active, out of the streets, and away from the hopelessness that fills our town. I want to empower kids who struggled like me and let them know that they’re loved,” she wrote in her application.
Since the CCH scholarship program began in 2004, 19 students have graduated with bachelor’s degrees, 41% of students eligible to do so. Three other scholarship students (7%) earned associate or nursing degrees.
This compares well per a national study that showed just 11% 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, 2016).
CCH’s scholarship program assists students throughout college: Our graduates, most of them self-supporting by age 18, average 4.5 years of study before completing their bachelor’s.
Thanks to private donors and dedicated grants to the scholarship program, CCH will award more than $425,000 to 68 students in 16 years.
The scholarship is funded by grants from the Jill l. Meinzer Scholarship Fund, Osa Foundation, Sisters of Charity, BVM, Susan W. Pearson Memorial Fund, and Student Alliance for Homeless Youth. Private donors also designate tax-deductible gifts, small and large, that are restricted to scholarship awards.
Associated Bank has generously sponsored the 2019 awards event.
Because of a generous incentive created by Robin Lavin at the Osa Foundation, students who earn a cumulative GPA of “B” or better in college receive $1,000 for a new laptop or computer. Twenty-six students have earned this honor, including new awards to four rising sophomores.
Serving on the Scholarship Selection Committee are three former scholarship recipients: Daihana Estrada, a 2010 winner and UIC grad now attending Loyola law school; Gesenia Viviescas, a 2013 winner who won a Fulbright award to teach in Taiwan after graduating from Indiana’s DePauw University; and Kristen Lang, a 2014 winner who teaches in the Chicago Public Schools after graduating with honors from HBCU Benedict College in South Carolina.
Also serving are retired CCH Executive Director Ed Shurna; retired UIC English professor Mary Beth Rose; and Patricia Rivera, founding donor of the scholarship and retired director of the CPS homeless education program, recently retired as founding director of the shelter-based tutoring program, Chicago HOPES for Kids. Law Project Intake Specialist Christy Savellano manages the program; Organizer Alyssa Rodriguez and Claire Sloss and Anne Bowhay of the development staff also serve on the committee.
The 10-member selection committee evaluates applicants using a rubric to evaluate the strength of their written applications, including short essays, as well as recommendation letters, followed by committee interviews with the semifinalists. Twenty high school seniors applied by the April deadline.
– Portraits by Claire Sloss; story, Anne Bowhay