6 College Scholarships Awarded

Six first-year college students won scholarships awarded by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) in June. They hail from Chicago, Evanston, and West Chicago and will attend universities in Illinois and Washington, D.C.  

Launched in 2004, CCH’s scholarship program provides up to five years of financial support as students work towards a college degree. Twenty-four students will receive scholarships during the 2023 – 24 school year. They include six first-years, six sophomores, seven juniors, and five seniors. They are attending colleges and universities in California, Illinois, Georgia, Michigan, Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin. 

Four scholarship program alumni now in graduate school will receive $500 stipends for books or other academic materials. These students are pursuing a master’s in education, law school, and PhDs in sociology and environmental engineering.  

All first-year winners will also receive new laptops thanks to a grant from The Osa Foundation

We are pleased to announce that the scholarship award amount will increase to $4,000 thanks to a substantial gift from an anonymous foundation.

This gift will also allow CCH to support approximately 24 students annually, up from 20.  

The award amount last increased in 2020 with support from a transformational gift given in memory of Jill L. Meinzer.  

These generous gifts have been placed in an investment account to ensure the scholarships – also supported by designated donations and grants – will remain fully funded at the increased award amount for years to come. An annual distribution from the reserve account will augment annual fundraising efforts, making the larger awards possible in the long term.   

CCH is excited to share that two students graduated from college in May; a third will graduate after completing summer classes. They earned bachelor’s degrees from the Art Institute of Chicago (animation), the University of Illinois – Springfield (government), and St. Louis University (psychology).  

The 2024 scholarship winners are: 

Charles Ibrahim, University of Illinois Chicago 

A first-generation college student who moved to the U.S. from Nigeria when he was 8, Charles Ibrahim has been interested in tinkering with things and learning how they work for as long as he can remember.  

At Amundsen High School, Charles was a peer advisor, an orchestra mentor, and a member of an engineering club where he learned about fixing appliances and building machines.  As a member of his varsity football team, Charles won an award for most improved player. He is also a proud graduate of his high school’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program, known for its rigorous curriculum.  

Charles plans to major in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois Chicago.  

“This very same passion I’ve taken while growing up is my main motivation for going to college,” Charles wrote in his application. “I want my skills in engineering to be molded by the hands of a competent university so I can truly be good at what I love.” 

Kary Hernandez, Loyola University Chicago  

While at West Chicago Community High School, Kary Hernandez wrote for the yearbook and school newspaper, The Wildcat Chronicle. She was an executive board member of a Women’s Leadership club and a member of the National Honor Society. She also worked at Panera Bread and served as a student election judge during the 2022 general election. Kary is trilingual, speaking English, Spanish, and Zapoteco, a dialect originating in Oaxaca, Mexico.   

Kary has been accepted into Loyola University Chicago’s five-year BSW/MSW program, which allows students to complete an undergraduate and graduate degree in social work in five years.  

“I am fortunate to have supportive teachers, social workers and counselors who do not make me feel bad for not having access to necessities,” Kary wrote in her application. “I want to be that person for others so they can feel cherished…What truly makes me joyful is to break the cycle of poverty, abuse, neglect, and much more.”   

Micheal Brown, Howard University 

Micheal Brown has dreamed of becoming a full-time musician since he was six years old. As a student at George Westinghouse College Prep, Micheal played first chair trumpet in the honors band, took piano lessons, and participated in a poetry slam group. He studied music business and audio production through summer classes.  Micheal also played varsity football, volunteered at his church, and worked up to 30 hours per week in various service industry roles.   

Micheal plans to major in music and business at Howard University, with the aim of becoming a successful musician who uses his influence to address issues he cares about, such as prison reform, poverty, and racial inequality.  

“Every day I acquire new goals and objectives and no matter how outrageous or unobtainable they may seem, I have failed at life if I do not attempt to try,” Micheal wrote in his application.  

Sabene Uwazie, Howard University

An Evanston Township High School graduate, Sabene Uwazie has a deep love for the performing arts. As a student, she was active in theater, taking on roles of both actor and assistant director in several school plays. She also participated in color guard, worked at Starbucks, and was a member of the Black Student Union.  

Sabene will attend Howard University and plans to major in psychology. Her academic interests include physics, theater, psychology, African American studies, and gender studies.  

She writes, “Even though these interests are in very different subjects, they all have an overlapping theme: to help and heal Black people as much as possible.” 

Serenity Rainey, Illinois State University

Serenity Rainey graduated from Daniel Hale Williams Prep School of Medicine where she played volleyball and was a member of the South Shore Drill Team. A National Honors Society member, she also worked various service jobs and completed a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) internship with Phalanx Family Services.  

Serenity will major in psychology at Illinois State University, with plans to pursue a PhD.

“I want to be a child psychologist because a lot of kids’ mental health is overlooked,” Serenity wrote in her application. “I want to be the person they can come and talk to. I want to help them understand that their feelings are valid and they don’t have to feel like they aren’t being heard. I want to be the person that I once needed when I was their age.” 

Tai Ramirez, University of Illinois Chicago 

A talented visual artist and performer, Tai Ramirez graduated from Walter Payton College Prep where they created and directed the Latin Music Ensemble, a performance group for Latinx musicians. As an executive board member for the Latin American Coalition, they also coordinated the school’s first Latinx Heritage Month Arts Showcase. Outside of school, Tai worked as a teaching assistant at the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, focused on Afro-Caribbean/Afro Puerto Rican music and dance.  In 2022, Tai received special recognition during Latinx Heritage Month by the Mayor of Chicago for their artistic contributions.  

An aspiring art teacher, Tai plans to major in art education at the University of Illinois Chicago.  

“I want to create accepting and creative spaces in schools for Chicago’s youth to explore themselves and their identities through art and creative expression,” Tai wrote in their application. “I want to create healthy learning environments that inspire the upcoming generations of Chicago.” 

There would be no scholarship without your support.

The CCH Scholarship Program is only possible with the generous support of our community. This year’s awards were funded by The Osa Foundation, Susan W. Pearson Memorial Fund, and 20+ individual donors giving between $25 and $5,000. The CCH Associate Board also raised almost $5,000 for the scholarship program through a variety show fundraiser.   

Awards are also funded through an annual distribution from CCH’s scholarship reserve account, created with support from the family of Jill L. Meinzer and an anonymous foundation. This reserve account allowed CCH to increase its annual award by $1,000, to $3,500 in 2020. The award was raised again in 2023, to $4,000, with plans to gradually increase the number of students in the program from 20 to 24. 

To date, 34 scholarship winners have graduated with bachelor’s degrees, 51% of students eligible to do so and surpassing national averages for students from families earning lowest incomes. Four other students (6%) have earned associate or nursing degrees. 

Serving on this year’s Scholarship Selection Committee are eight former scholarship winners: 

  • Daihana Estrada is a 2010 winner and UIC and Loyola law school graduate. 
  • Artist Dontay Lockett is a 2016 winner and Columbia College Chicago graduate.  
  • Gesenia Viviescas, a 2013 winner, earned a bachelor’s from DePauw University and a dual master’s degree in social work and in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies from DePaul University.  
  • Kristen Lang is a 2014 winner who teaches in the Chicago Public Schools after graduating from Benedict College. She is studying for a master’s in education from National Louis University.  
  • Mahalia Crawford, a 2014 winner and Tougaloo College graduate, is pursuing a PhD in sociology, with a focus on race and crime, at Louisiana State University.  
  • Mayra Fajardo is a 2017 winner who graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a double major in psychology and criminology.  
  • Nia Hill, a 2016 winner, studied accounting at Howard University and earned a master’s in nonprofit management from Columbia University.  
  • Pierrerasha Goodwin, a 2018 winner, graduated from Tougaloo College and is a current law student at the University of Alabama.  

Also serving on the committee are Patricia “Pat” Rivera, the founding donor of the scholarship program, and CCH’s intake & support manager, Christy Beretta. Pat previously served as director of the CPS homeless education program, as well as the founding director of a shelter-based tutoring program, Chicago HOPES for Kids. Christy, a licensed clinical social worker, manages CCH’s scholarship program on top of her other duties for CCH’s Law Project. 

The ten-member committee reviewed each application using a rubric to evaluate the strength of applicants’ short essays, transcripts, and recommendation letters. Twenty-five high school seniors applied by the May 12 deadline. All semifinalists were interviewed by the committee via Zoom in June.    

Donations can be made to support the scholarship program at chicagohomeless.org/scholars.  All donations directly support the scholarship awards distributed to students.  

Preschool Enrollment Support

Early childhood education is a crucial component to a child’s development and future academic success. Studies show that children who attend preschool are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and stay out of the criminal legal system.

Chicago families with preschool-age children can enroll in preschool starting April 11 for the 2023-24 school year.

If your child is four years old on or before September 1, 2023, they are eligible for CPS full-day and half-day programs. If your child is three years old on or before September 1, 2023, they are eligible for CPS half-day programs and Community Based Programs.

Families can apply online and get information about early learning on the CPS website or by phone, at (312) 229-1690.

CPS gives priority placement in preschool for children in families experiencing homelessness.

Still, it is important to apply as early as possible to avoid being placed on a waitlist.

Children experiencing homelessness can be enrolled in preschool without proof of address, income, guardianship or other documents normally needed for enrollment. This includes children living in shelters, those sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing or economic hardship (“doubled-up”), or those living in other temporary living situations.

Families experiencing homelessness should indicate their living situation on the application and notify the person assisting them with preschool enrollment.

If you submit the application during the Initial Application Period (April 11– May 2) you’ll receive your child’s placement by May 19th. If the application is submitted after May 2, the child’s placement will be sent on a rolling basis. You can log into the portal or call the hotline to find out your child’s placement.

After submitting the application and receiving your child’s placement, you must verify your child’s spot at your assigned preschool program within two weeks or at a Family Resource Center. If you are in a temporary living situation, you can receive transportation to verify your child’s spot.

You can apply to more than one preschool program.

You can accept a spot at a preschool program and remain on the waitlist at another preschool program.

If your child is attending a Chicago Public Schools preschool program, your child has a right to transportation services. If your child is attending a community-based preschool program, you should check with the individual program to determine what supports are available for students in temporary living situations.

The Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is available to answer questions and help families by phone with completing the application for preschool enrollment.

Call Education Attorney Alyssa Phillips at 872-588-6800 if you need assistance with preschool enrollment.

Mayra knows a little help can go a long way

Mayra Fajardo, a Latinx woman in her 20s, poses in front of the Chicago River, a big smile on her face. She is wearing a white blouse. Banner text reads: Mayra knows a little help can go a long way.

Mayra Fajardo recently graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She earned a double major in psychology and criminology/law, with a double minor in history and Spanish. Having navigated high school and college as an unaccompanied student, Mayra is passionate about using her skills and experiences to help others.  

Born and raised in Chicago, Mayra moved with her family to Ecuador at 15. A year later, she made the difficult decision to return to Chicago alone to pursue better educational opportunities. Her goal? To provide hope and support for her mother and younger sister. 

Continue reading Mayra knows a little help can go a long way

Back to school without a place to call home

Last week marked the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year for Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Suburban school districts also started school in recent weeks. After the difficulties and barriers families and students faced over the last two years due to the pandemic, it is more important than ever for schools to identify and support students experiencing homelessness. 

Continue reading Back to school without a place to call home

Daihana shares her story, resolved to help others

Daihana Estrada, a recent graduate from Loyola University Chicago School of Law, is no stranger to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. In fact, she has been involved with CCH for more than a decade, as a scholarship winner, an intern, an advocate, and a member of the scholarship selection committee. 

She also recently raised $1,890 for CCH through an online fundraiser, garnering support from 65 people from around the world. 

Today, Daihana is a first-year attorney, working as a judicial law clerk in Minnesota. Hers is a journey more than 12 years in the making. 

Continue reading Daihana shares her story, resolved to help others

How to access financial aid though FAFSA

Many students experiencing homelessness would like to pursue higher education but face many barriers, including unstable housing, hunger, and lack of access to financial resources, that make going to college difficult.

Need based and merit based financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Students (FAFSA) can provide financial resources that allow students to access college. There are multiple ways that one can complete the FAFSA Application – online at studentaid.gov, through the myStudentAid mobile app, by printing a PDF version of the FAFSA Application and mailing it in, or by completing the application on the phone by calling 1-800-433-3243.

Continue reading How to access financial aid though FAFSA

City, CPS announce $500 grants for students experiencing housing instability

A new program will provide eligible CPS students with funding to assist with educational, living, and other expenses. 

By Alyssa Phillips, Education Attorney 

This week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Interim Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Dr. José M. Torres announced the creation of the Chicago Families Forward Fund. It will provide a $500 microgrant to CPS students experiencing housing insecurity to assist with needs that families and students are facing. 

This funding is critical and a step in the right direction as families and students experiencing homelessness have faced housing instability, job loss, loss of family members and serious health issues during the pandemic. All Chicago families and students need housing and other resources to succeed in school. The direct, flexible payments to CPS families and students experiencing homelessness will allow families and students to address a variety of unique and urgent needs. 

Continue reading City, CPS announce $500 grants for students experiencing housing instability