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Homeless students awarded college scholarships

Wed, Jul 31, 2013

On June 27, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (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 at Loyola University Law School’s 10th floor ceremonial courtroom.
The nine previous scholarship winners also receive $2,000 renewal awards for their studies at various universities. One scholarship recipient likewise receives $1,000 toward her master’s degree studies in psychology.

Education journalist Lutton 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 – in a 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,” 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.”

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The 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 decided to 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 seven percent of her Lincoln Park High class. Her activities include playing cello, Hapkido martial arts, tinikling Filipino dance, National Honor Society, and Book Club. Looking 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 watching “The Interrupters,” a documentary focused on the discouragement of 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 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, and launched 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! 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.

- Anne Bowhay, CCH media

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