Bridging the Gap for College Kids

Being in the world of non-profit has been so eye opening for me.  I have met some remarkable young men and women who are among the brightest students I have ever met.  And there are certain challenges they face in their journey that I can’t imagine ever overcoming in order to get to college.  And yet they do.  They inspire me every day.

Sometimes, however, the challenge isn’t so much getting to college as it is in staying.  For first generation students, navigating the process of college is hard enough- and some are promised a “free ride”. And yet, once they get to school, there is a load of small hidden costs that suddenly add up to figures that they can’t figure out how to pay.  To many of us, this would be a minor setback, but we would figure out how to come up with a few thousand dollars to make ends meet, or perhaps we had already planned for this and have that nest egg for those expenses ready.  For my students, however- this could mean leaving school and abandoning the dream and everything they have worked for to this point. 

Some of you have asked how you can help.  I currently have two students who are facing the fact that they can’t remain in school unless they each come up with about $4,000. I realized that I can’t let them fail because of the hidden costs of being in college- (room and board charges, student fees, waivers for medical coverage they didn’t realize had to be signed, books that are more expensive than they realized.). All of this comes after they have reached the maximum for what they are eligible to borrow.  All of this after their parents have already given them everything they have.  We say that we are successful if we can get kids to college.  The real challenge, however, becomes keeping them there and making sure they have a fighting chance of graduating.
Let me tell you about one of these students.  Kelli is an amazing slam poet.  She graduated from Cleveland’s School of the Arts this past year with over 30 college credits under her belt. She worked at the local YMCA every year mentoring young children.  She leads the ICTC summer program’s poetry component, and I am constantly amazed by her ability to bring out the talents in our students.  She leads little kids down the hall at the rec center as they chant out the rhyme scheme of iambic pentameter (ABAB!!! CDCD!! Etc.). I am always blown away and wish I had used some of her techniques when I taught at Hudson.  Kelli has been raising her younger two siblings who are also in our camp, and helps take care of her family in many ways.  She is mature beyond her age, and wants to have her own non-profit someday to bring the performing arts to kids in urban areas at no cost. She started writing grants for this purpose at age 16.  I am constantly amazed by her.

Teon is my other student who had a college “scholarship” and went to school to play tennis.  However, once he got there, and after taking out federal loans, he is still left with $4K in what he owes.  Teon is unbelievable with the kids during the summer camp- he is always the kids’ favorite counselor.  And because he is in charge of the tennis program and is a success story himself, kids naturally look up to him, and he is an amazing mentor to younger kids. I can see him going into education someday or working with kids-  he just has a natural gift.

So I am going to start a fundraiser for these amazing students I have met, and I hope to raise enough money to be able to keep these two in school this year, and perhaps even start a separate fund to help out future students who find themselves in financial distress. I am not going to let them fail. 

Then I plan to partner with some great organizations in the Cleveland area to do financial planning and literacy workshops, as well as figure out how to have an emergency fund for future "nest eggs" we may need to help our students not have to face this kind of situation.

This money will be helping our amazing kids bridge the gap between loans, grants, and personal contributions.  They are the hardest working students I have ever known.  They work three jobs, take care of (and sometimes raise) younger siblings.  Their parents are doing the absolute best they can.  They are not asking for help so they can go out and enjoy student life. They are asking for help to remain in school- for the chance to have a shot at graduating- something many of us take for granted.

I would not have been able to get through four years of college without the support of my parents and the burden that they took on for me.  I can’t even imagine trying to go it alone. I am hoping that we can together make sure that some of the brightest young future stars I know won’t fall through the cracks of this system.  I can’t let it happen. Will you join me?  Even a small donation will go a long way. 

And if you have any ideas for a great fundraiser, let me know.  I am going to be trying to figure out a way to join forces with anyone interested.  A pub crawl? A backyard college-themed party? Throw me some ideas that you know have worked- that would be a way to help as well!

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Liz Fay Deegan 
Cleveland, OH
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