CCH awards 6 new college scholarships – 15 scholars in college next fall

IMG_1456-EditOn June 27, CCH presented renewable $2,000 college scholarships to six Chicago Public Schools students who achieved academically while coping with homelessness. The awards program featured remarks by Linda Lutton, an award-winning education reporter at WBEZ Public Radio and contributor to This American Life‘s acclaimed spring series on Chicago’s Harper High School.

The free evening event was held at Loyola University Law School, 25 E. Pearson St., in the 10th floor ceremonial courtroom. The scholarships are funded by private donations to the CCH college scholarship program, now in its tenth year. 

Nine previous scholarship winners also receive $2,000 renewal awards for their studies at Concordia University, Knox College, Lake Forest College, Olive-Harvey College, University of Arkansas-Little Rock, University of Illinois-Chicago, and the University of Illinois-Springfield. One scholarship recipient also receives $1,000 toward her master’s degree studies in psychology.

(Photo above, 1st row from left: Cassandra Murff, Gesenia Viviescas, Kimberly Azpeitia, Jessica Lee; 2nd row, from left: Andrew Strmic, Gilma Escobar, Mariah Griffin, Nasia Smith, Jennifer Salgado-Benz, Edwina Ward, Jayme Robinson, Sean Hopkins, Daihana Estrada – Jeff Foy Photography)

The awards program was honored to feature remarks by education journalist Linda Lutton. Linda has reported on several issues handled by CCH attorneys over the years, including harassment of homeless and low-income students at a Sauk Village elementary district in the early 2000s, and attempts by a CPS principal to force mid-year transfers of more than 60 homeless students in early 2012.

She also talked about her work on This American Life’s Harper High series – in a nice coincidence, one of this year’s new scholarship winners is a new Harper grad.

“We have schools that put obstacles in (students’) way. But people become aware of these issues because of the coalition. That’s what you get when you have people close to the ground,” Ms. Lutton said.

“We are proud of the achievements of our scholarship students,” said CCH Executive Director Ed Shurna, “many of whom cope with homelessness until they move into their college dorm. They have shown promise and tenacity, and we are pleased to offer assistance that compliments the other scholarships and aid students need to afford a college education.”

Our 2013 winners are:

Kimberly Azpeitia: Kimberly played soccer and lacrosse at Lincoln Park High, and was active in ASPIRA. With a weighted GPA of 3.7, Kimberly plans to study forensic science at DePaul University.
Mariah Griffin: After working with the Drama Club at Prosser Career Academy, Mariah realized that she would study theater and film in college. With a weighted GPA of 3.6, Mariah will attend Western Illinois University this fall.
Jessica Lee: Jessica has a weighted GPA of 4.8 and is ranked in the top 7 percent of her Lincoln Park High class. Her activities include playing cello, Hapkido martial arts, tinikling Filipino dance, National Honor Society, and Book Club. With plans to become a doctor, Jessica will attend University of Illinois-Chicago.
Cassandra Murff: Ranked 5th in her class at Harper High School, Cassandra was involved in many school activities, including the EMBARC mentoring program. After seeing the film “The Interrupters,” to discourage violence among students she co-founded a mentoring program for underclassmen called Mission Motivators. With plans to study English and one day become an attorney, she will attend DePaul University this fall.
Andrew Strmic: At Lane Tech High School, Andrew has a weighted GPA of 4.06, with extensive coursework in Advanced Placement classes, higher math and sciences. A school wrestler, he volunteered three years at a church soup kitchen. Andrew’s scholarships to the University of Illinois-Chicago include an engineering award to help him with his planned studies in chemical engineering.
Gesenia Viviescas: The Schurz High School graduate had a 3.8 GPA, captained the varsity cross country and track teams, was a yearbook editor, Student Council member, National Honor Society treasurer and founder of the South Asian Club. She is headed to DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.

The scholarships are funded by private donors as well as from grants from Sisters of Charity BVM and the North Shore-based Student Alliance for Homeless Youth.

At the event, CCH honored Robin Lavin, president of the Osa Foundation. Mrs. Lavin has funded 20 annual awards to date, as well as launching an incentive that awards laptops to students who maintain an average of “B” or better in college. In its third year, eight students will have been awarded laptops, including all four young women who completed their freshman year this spring.

After acknowledging CCH for its “great sense of purpose and integrity,” Mrs. Lavin addressed the scholars directly:

“In your young lives, you have – just by the circumstance of your birth – faced extraordinary challenges and hardship. Yet… (and here’s the important part), through your own actions you have arrived here. Your goal setting, your fortitude, your intelligence, your resilience, your grit, your adaptability, your perseverance, creativity, your effort, your attitude, your hard work, your sacrifice and tenacity has brought you here – ready to pursue your dreams.

“Your challenges are not over. Your peers have told you, college is challenging – this part of life is challenging – but you have demonstrated, without a doubt, that you have what it takes to achieve your dreams.

“I am inspired by your great determination and achievement. I congratulate you. I encourage you to dream big. Share your incredible stories. You have done so much to be proud of – and all of us here today want to say, WELL DONE.”

In the coming year, CCH is on track to have awarded more than $150,000 in assistance to 39 students.

The 2013 Scholarship Selection Committee was served by Ashley Allen, high school program director at Horizons for Youth; Bill Creed, a Jesuit and founder of the Ignatian Spirituality Project; Joan Dixey, a retired elementary educator; Thomas Lysaught, senior vice-president of liability claims at Zurich North America; Monica Mahan, CCH social worker; Claire Sloss and Anne Bowhay, CCH development staff.

– Anne Bowhay, Media