WASHINGTON – Tommesha Scott was destined for failure. When she was 3 years old,her father murdered her mother. She lived with her grandmother for a while,then at age 12 moved in with her aunt,who was murdered two yeas later.
“I had a lot of deaths,and a lot of things going on where I couldn't make it to school,” Scott said. “I went through an emotional crisis because of it,but I had a lot of support.”
The College Success Foundation was one of those support groups. CFS was founded in 2000 by Bob Craves,co-founder of discount retailer Costco,and Ann-Ramsay Jenkins,a New Hampshire banker,to provide mentorship and financial support to low-income and minority students from middle school through college.
On Wednesday,the foundation released a report to mark its 10th anniversary. It says the group has helped about 11,000 students complete high school and college here and in Washington state. The report says 97 percent of its scholars graduate from high school and 68 percent graduate from college.
Scott,now 19,lived in foster care,and although her childhood was traumatic,she always made it a point to succeed in school.
“Academically,I was always a good student. I grew up in a crack house,so the issue was always getting
clothes,getting to school,getting books. The foundation came in and made it better,” Scott said.
Scott,now 19 and a junior majoring in sociology at Trinity Washington University,received the D.C. Achievers Scholarship in her junior year of high school at Maya Angelou Public Charter School. The scholarship program is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. According to the CSF website,the scholarship has provided aid to 500 low-income students in the District of Columbia.
In the D.C. area,84 percent of Achievers Scholars qualify for federal free or reduced-price lunch programs,a measure of poverty,and 99 percent of them are students of color.
Trinity President Pat McGuire said helping these students is important because otherwise they may not go to college.
“I know this as an educator,but I am shocked every time I see this statistic. The percent of low-income Americans who will attain a bachelor's degree is only 10 percent,” McGuire said. “How will we ever stop the cycles of poverty in this country if we don't address the other 90 percent?”
Craves said sometimes it is more important to provide a mentor than a scholarship.
“In our fourth year,we had a number of students who didn't go back to college. We literally called all of them,and in some instances we drove up to their houses to figure out what the problem was,” Craves said. The students returned to school.
Scott sees the persistence and care of her mentors day in and day out.
“If they find out you are not going to class,or even if it's something personal and you're having some sort of problem,they are going to call you,” Scott said. “There are times when I feel like I want to give up,and I think,I can give up on me but I can't give up on them. They are doing all these things for you,how can you not go to school?”
The foundation serves 16 districts in Washington state,including,Tacoma,Seattle and Spokane.
CSF President Deborah Wilds said the program is seeking to expand there and to other states in three or four years.
Scott wants to go to law school and help others in her community go to college.
“I hope that one day students won't be thinking it's OK not to go to college. I want it to be shocking if students aren't going to school,” Scott said.