Non-profit helps students realize college dreams

October 20, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The people who run a South Side non-profit agency believe their after-school program will make the difference. Devoting their time and resources is how they show their "spirit of giving."

Magazine clippings make for more than just an art project. They can provide a glimpse into the future.

"My vision board is exactly what I pictured for myself in college and after college," said Rachel Bradley, a student at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy. "It seems more realistic when I look at it."

It is no wonder 17-year-old Bradley has clipped examples of high fashion. She wants to major in fashion and business at her college of choice. The vision board is an assignment in the Life Skills class in the Upward Bound program housed at the Metropolitan Family Services Center.

Program Director Christine Brown says the pre-college curriculum fills a knowledge gap.

"We work with students who are first generation, which means they are potentially the first in their families to go to college," Brown said. "They are low-income and they are attending high school in the greater Roseland community."

Seventeen-year-old Julius Olalusi, a student at Urban Prep Charter Academ, plans to major in architecture and civil engineering. He says the program also provides a safe haven.

"I joined this program in the summer because I thought it would be a great opportunity. It allows me to get away from some of the negative things in my neighborhood," Olalusi said.

"Whether it's been exposure to violence, losing a loved one to violence, dealing with peer pressure, abuse, trauma. You name it our students have some experiences with it," said Brown.

But Brown and her colleagues hope to break that cycle by stressing the importance of education. In addition to helping students complete college applications and search for scholarships, they lead the students on out of state college tours as well as local college fairs.

Lakeah Coleman is a senior at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep. She joined the summer before her freshman year.

"I knew I was going to need a lot of help preparing for college applications and scholarships, because I knew I wasn't going to pay for college from my pocket," said Coleman.

Organizers are thrilled to see the students excel, but they stress that getting through college is just the beginning.

"We always say to them, once you finish college, we need you to come back. We need you to come back and be a leader," Brown said. "We need you to come back and be a mentor to someone else who is trying to do the same that you did."

Since the Roseland area Upward Bound program started four years ago, 100 percent of participants have graduated from high school, with all but a few moving on to college.

Last year's class of 38 graduating seniors was awarded a total of $1.4 million in scholarship funds.

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