By students, for students.
That’s the banner of the Atkins Chatham Scholar Fund, a scholarship partnership between Chatham Education Foundation and Chatham Youth with the mission of sending …
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By students, for students.
That’s the banner of the Atkins Chatham Scholar Fund, a scholarship partnership between Chatham Education Foundation and Chatham Youth with the mission of sending “one needy Chathamite to the school of their dreams.”
“As the first and only #ByStudentsForStudents scholarship in Chatham and one of the first in the nation, we’re demonstrating the resolve of a new generation,” the GoFundMe page states. “High school and college juniors have accepted the mantle of a new day in America.”
The scholarship’s organizers — including Chatham Youth’s 12 student members and two advisers — say such a scholarship reflects an urgent need, as the pandemic perpetuates financial hardship and as student loan debt in the United States continues to grow at more than six times the rate of the national economy, according to research by EducationData.org. The scholarship’s GoFundMe campaign currently has raised $1,000 of its $28,000 goal to fully pay for four years of in-state tuition.
“Higher education has never been in higher demand, and yet, so far out of reach for so many,” the GoFundMe page says. “It is said that education is the ‘great equalizer,’ but in these times, it might as well be the ‘great barrier.’ The good news is, there is hope. And that hope starts with you.”
Chatham Youth Founder and President Alexander Cook, a junior at Northwood High School, said he was largely inspired to start Chatham Youth during the presidential election last November — a time when so many important issues were brought to the forefront and remote learning meant he had extra time on his hands. He wanted to create something that created change and amplified youth voices from around the county, and so he did.
“I was just talking with a couple of my friends who were helping me on this, and we just kind of came up with this idea — maybe we could do a scholarship that was by students and for students,” Cook said, “but we didn’t actually have the infrastructure to do that. So we found the Chatham Education Foundation, and… (they) really liked the idea. It was a bit of a process, but we were able to get the go-ahead.”
The scholarship is named for Simon Green Atkins, an African American educator from Chatham who was born into slavery in 1863 and devoted his life to improving health, housing and economic status for Black North Carolinians. He served as founding president of Winston-Salem State University, a historically Black college, and the North Carolina Negro Teachers’ Association.
In order to apply for the scholarship, CCS seniors must be pursuing a bachelor’s degree, possess a GPA of 3.0+ and have a household income at or below $60,000. You can apply, or learn more, at Chatham Youth's website.
CEF Executive Director Jaime Detzi said the scholarship is a hyper-local opportunity to not only help close the gap for low-income students attending college — a gap reflected in Chatham and across the country — but also for those students being able to complete college.
“This pandemic has shown nothing but the problems that already existed in the educational and public education system and education in general, as far as education equity throughout North Carolina, specifically, but in the nation. So there is no better time than now for us to be supporting a low-income student that could go to college without walking out with a ton of debt,” Detzi said. “And I think that Alexander and his team understand that you have opportunities in life that are given to you, and then you have opportunities in life that somebody of their age might be able to give to another student. And that’s more important than anything.”
Jonathan Aguilar, a former Jordan-Matthew student who is now a junior at Duke University, is not officially on a member of Chatham Youth, but he’s been helping out with the group’s efforts. He said this cause is important to him because of the number of students who miss out on the opportunity to attend college, particularly in Chatham. He was three years old when he immigrated to Siler City from Mexico with his mother. He is a DREAMer who graduated top of his class at J-M and earned a full ride to Duke University.
He hopes other students can have the same opportunities he did.
“During high school, I always contemplated the idea of not being able to go to college due to my status as an undocumented student and almost convinced myself at one point that it was impossible,” Aguilar said. “This is, however, not the case and I’d like to extend this notion to all of the students who are thinking the same thoughts that I was thinking during this point in one’s academic career.”
After graduating from J-M, Aguilar learned his class had the most college acceptances of recent classes, but the ratio of students who actually went on to attend college showed acceptance alone was not enough.
“In my eyes, the purpose of this scholarship is to inform all of the interested high school students of the many resources available to prospective college students,” he said, adding that while he loved his time at CCS, he was not as prepared for college as he would have liked, particularly in his college chemistry studies.
“Upon confirming this thought with other CCS graduates in other universities, it became clear that many of us were not sufficiently prepared for our college journey,” he said. “This is one of the things I’d like to begin to change by starting this scholarship. By offering non-profit student run resources, I hope that external sources take notice and hopefully aid us with our task.”
Detzi said the scholarship presents a great opportunity for CEF to help get it off the ground. Currently, Detzi is helping with advertising of the scholarship, as well as with sorting out some of the logistical aspects of the application review process.
“I think that it’s super impactful that we have a group of students that are advocating for other students,” she said.
Another big piece that the group is focusing on is how to fundraise for such a large project. Without a super strong business base in Chatham, Detzi said securing large donations can be a challenge — particularly because local businesses are already frequently giving and being asked for donations.
“We’re just trying to see what sticks, but we’re throwing a lot of things against the wall here,” Cook added. The group is also working to launch “CCS Serves,” a community service hub, but is currently focusing efforts on fundraising through raising awareness on social media and other creative avenues — encouraging donations of all sizes.
It’s a large task, but one Cook and his co-organizers believe warrants all the effort it will take to make a reality.
“I think that as students, we can serve as ambassadors to actually raise the money to make this happen and just see what we can do,” he said. “Because I think there was a need here in Chatham County, but it wasn’t necessarily being served. And so hopefully we can serve as a way to do that.”
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.