While a college education can be a great way for low-income students to escape the cycle of poverty, many of these students do not take this path. They often face difficult choices – Do I get a job and support my family, or do I take out large loans and further my education? These are tough choices to make at a young age.
As one small way to make higher education more accessible to low-income students, fifteen $1000 WCEJ Thornton Foundation Low-Income Scholarships will be awarded to students in any field of study who have an exemplary academic record, but are in need of financial assistance to pursue their dreams in higher education.
To apply, you must be planning to be enrolled in continuing education in August 2022. This can include having your GED, being a graduating high school senior, someone returning to school or someone already enrolled in a post-secondary education program. Please write about your greatest achievement, what it taught you about yourself, and what you hope to achieve in the future.
At the age of nine, I was diagnosed with an aneurysm in the aorta which required surgery and a month-long hospitalization. I was treated at a government hospital, and though it was one of the best in Mexico City, I witnessed poverty, hunger, and malnutrition there.
I lived in Mexico City for fifteen years but had never really seen extreme poverty until that time. Families were charged based on income and some only made 1000 pesos a month (about $50). People traveled from all over Mexico to get the medical attention they needed, and when they got to the hospital their families had no place to stay and no money for food. I wanted to help. I came up with the idea of a bake sale to raise money because in Mexico we are known for showing love through our food. After selling all 956 brownies and 1543 gummy lollipops, the money we earned was enough to cover the cost of several surgeries for those in need.
Afterward, my mom and I started a fundraiser called “De Corazón a Corazón” (from the heart to the heart), which paid for many surgeries.
The first person I helped was Monica, and after her surgery, Monica's family called me to say that they had some money left over that they wanted to give back; they still needed money for medicine and transportation, so instead of returning any money, I asked them to help with the cooking of the brownies. So every year when the bake sale started again, more people gathered together to cook. This is one of the greatest achievements of my life because what started as one of the scariest moments in my life led to the possibility of saving lives.
This experience showed me I was stronger than I thought I was and it showed me that when people work together, many things can be accomplished.
Furthermore, my future career involves working with people with down syndrome, autism, and other special abilities. Throughout the past years, I have been involved in the Special Education community by volunteering at the Special Olympics and classes. It has been a wonderful experience that changed my life and made me sure of what I want to do for my future career. I will focus on double majoring in Psychology and Communication Sciences and Disabilities which focuses on a wide variety of problems in speech, language, and hearing.
My goal is to try and make the world a more inclusive place and ten years from now, I see myself finishing my Ph.D., and on the way to becoming one of the best special needs therapists. I want to make a change in the world and integrate people with special abilities into society and abolish the negative stigma society has portrayed in these individuals. I want to open a clinic where I help people with special needs form relationships and teach them how to be independent and care for themselves.
Finally, I see myself having a beautiful family and teaching my kids about the importance of respect and equality in a society because it is not the world you leave to your children, but the children you leave to the world that will make a difference. I want to show the world that people with special abilities are as capable as any other person in the world, but to accomplish my dreams of helping others, I am in desperate need of a scholarship to continue and further my education and help people in the future.
Going back to college after having dropped out many years ago I think is my greatest achievement so far, because for years the fear of failure kept me from going back. Even though I have had many different types of achievements in my life, none were as intimidating as going back to school.
In elementary the teachers told me I was a poor student- I didn't listen enough, do enough homework, or pay attention. In junior high, I failed one class and received poor grades in many others. Somehow in high school I ended up graduating with high honors and did quite well, and in that process, I learned that I had always needed glasses, for one thing, and that I had been bored in my previous classes prior to high school. In 9th grade I got prescription eyeglasses and lo and behold, I could see the blackboard! My English teacher asked me why I was in "basic English"- the only response I had was that I hadn't done enough homework in junior high. He promptly put me in advanced courses, where I proceeded to successfully pass with flying colors.
Unfortunately, all those previous years of being told that I wasn't a good student, getting poor grades, and subsequently dropping out of college the first time after two months really made me internalize that I was a bad student and that I would never get a college degree. I concentrated on work, got married, had my daughter, and worked some more. I've since been in a few different careers, moved around the country, volunteered overseas and in my community, and successfully completed a 4-year apprenticeship. Yet even for all that, the thought of going back to college terrified me. "I won't do my homework", "I'll fail", or "I'll get bored and drop out" were some of my fears.
None of those things have happened. In 2019 I enrolled back the very same college I had dropped out of back in 1999, and to date I am a sophomore and holding a 3.85 g.p.a., am a campus leader, an AmeriCorps VISTA in my community, and I volunteer at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in my (limited!) spare time. Putting myself through college has been an amazing experience, instead of a terrifying one. My first semester I had a 4.0 g.p.a., and that boosted my confidence so much that I knew I could and would succeed. I am on track to study abroad and finish my Bachelor of Science in Sociology an entire semester early due to my dedication and hard work.
This is why going to college is my greatest achievement yet- because I overcame what I was afraid of. I faced my biggest fear, that of failure, and I came out on top.
I think my greatest achievement to date is deciding as a full-time worker and mom at the age of thirty-two it was time to go back to school. This in itself is no small feat. I work hard every day juggling a full-time job and responsibilities as a mother and wife. I then go on to be a student in college. Do not get me wrong I do have a lot of support from my husband and family. However, the main tasks are on me. I have to make a schedule that works for all of my tasks as well as everyone else in my family. I have to make sure everyone else has everything they need to get through their day.
So far this experience has taught me to never underestimate myself. I can do anything I set my mind and effort to. I am a strong woman who has a lot on her plate but does not allow it to discourage me from my goals. I have learned to better manage my schedule and to just breathe because with life nothing ever goes as planned. I prepare for the unexpected and pray a lot more than I ever have. Being flexible is another change I have learned. I now know not everything will go my way but that is no reason to give up or give in.
The goals I have set for myself in the future are hard but very obtainable. I want to finish college and begin a successful career. Not a paycheck to paycheck job, but a career that I love doing. I do not want to feel miserable or stuck at my workplace. I want the enjoyment of being able to help people while doing my job. I want to be able to show my children you can achieve anything you set your mind to. It does not matter your age or circumstance. I want my children to know that hard work pays off and is recognized. My biggest goal is I want my family to be proud of me and my hard work. I want them to see that I made it through my struggles and did not give up.
University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh CampusMcKees Rocks, PA
Growing up, my family struggled a lot with money. My parents got divorced when I was still in middle school and my mom was left to raise 5 children on her own. I wasn’t the typical child who got to hang out with my friends and go to movies growing up. Instead, I spent my days staying home and teaching my mom to read and write. On warm hot summer days when everyone was at the pool, I was at work trying to squeeze in a few extra hours to meet the month’s rent. There were times when my siblings and I had to live out of our car or in cheap motels because we could not afford to live in our home. We even had to live in a shelter for a few months at one point. I am sharing my story, not to gain sympathy, but to simply show where my passion and commitment towards helping others has stemmed from. Living this life taught me the importance of being willing to help and assist others. Despite struggling so much throughout my young adult life, I managed to graduate high school at the top of my class and get accepted into my dream college. Fast-forwarding to today, I am currently a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh where I am majoring in Political Science and work towards obtaining a certificate in Non-Profit Management. I hope to someday establish my own non-profit organization aimed at providing social services to families struggling with poverty throughout Pittsburgh the way my family and I did over the years. Growing up in a poor community, I was able to see first-hand just how difficult and detrimental it is to live in poverty. I cannot count on my fingers how many times my siblings and I went to bed hungry or freezing cold in the winter when our gas was shut off because he hadn't been able to afford the month's rent. No one, especially no child, should have to live this way. I spent the first decade and a half of my life not even living but fighting to simply survive. If I can find a way to offer even the smallest bit of assistance to other struggling families through Pittsburgh, I want to be able to do just that. In fact, that it just what I plan to do. To better prepare myself for my future in assisting others, I have spent the past 2 years volunteering and helping people through different organizations and programs throughout the Pittsburgh area. I have worked with Jumpstart, a national organization aimed at bridging the kindergarten readiness gap within urban communities. Through my work with Jumpstart, I have worked with my amazing team to design lesson plans for young pre-schoolers and have spent a few hours each week working with these students. Also, I currently mentor under Strong Women Strong Girls where I meet with a group of young girls each week and conduct lesson plans centered around female empowerment and leadership. Further, I spend a lot of time tutoring with Keep-It-Real where I dedicate a few hours each week tutoring young children from the Somali-Bantu community here in Pittsburgh. Equally important, I currently serve as an ambassador for the Pitt To You Program where I represent the University of Pittsburgh in a global setting. In this role, I connect with incoming international Pitt students and find ways to provide these students with information and resources aimed at ensuring they have a comfortable and successful transition to their new college lives. I am also involved in numerous other organizations here on my campus that all work to assist different communities throughout Pittsburgh. This summer, I even plan on working closely with the community outreach members representing Representative Jake Wheatley of the 19th congressional district. I say all of this to show you all that I am deeply committed to finding ways to assist all people within different communities. Given this, my greatest achievement to date is that I am and always have been resilient. I managed to make something of myself despite having so little as a child.
The most interesting part about me is my origin for sure, as it is an aspect I take great pride in. Although I was born in Colombia, I moved to the USA when I was four years old and became an American citizen in the 5th grade. My Colombian origin has made me very culturally diverse and accepting of different backgrounds and the celebrations and values that come with each specific culture. I also was raised without a father, with that and by going through YMCA Leader's Club and EDGE/Life Teen, I have been able to be vulnerable and willing to show weakness, which has helped me grow and develop as a leader through the theory of a "servant leader". My immigrant background has pushed me to demonstrate that Hispanics can be just as achievers and hard-working as everyone else in an academic environment, evolving to become a significant driving force in my education. Through volunteering, I have improved my willingness to communicate and compromise and increased my desire to form strong bonds within my community. I have learned to recognize some people do not have the same opportunities as me, meaning I not only need to take advantage of those opportunities but help and share with those who do not have access to them. I have experienced challenges in my life moving from Colombia to the USA, the outcome became promising because of the constant support in my life from my family and community.
My high school career has been characterized by balance, with me having to maintain community service, extracurricular clubs, my job, and my brief stint in youth sports while sustaining a decent academic performance. I have focused on balance to find success in all aspects of my life. I believe my greatest achievement to date has been to keep a balanced perspective to achieve my goals. On top of the balance I had to maintain in high school that I will keep enforcing during my college career, winning this scholarship would help me achieve my goals by allowing me to attend and finish college with minimum debt, which would be helpful since I am the first member of my family to attend college in the USA, and therefore this gives me more possible opportunities than my family had in Colombia. I will be attending the University of Florida College of Engineering in Gainesville, and for me to do this, I need to adapt and fend for myself.
Cartagena, my hometown in Colombia, has many problems in comparison to the infrastructure level we have in the USA. I want to study civil engineering, so I can find sustainable and feasible solutions to the infrastructure problems in cities and communities like Cartagena, helping them to achieve a better quality of life and progress. I am aware these communities are all over the world, creating global opportunities for engineering and its applications. It would be tremendous to be part of development projects around the world.
The woman on the screen was limping, blood seeping through a bandage that covered half her face. Surrounded by the rubble, she held her baby, who was crying incessantly. As I sat in my chair while watching this news segment, I was paralyzed. My dad was just as frozen as I was.
A magnitude 7.8 earthquake took place in Nepal in 2015. This catastrophe devastated millions, depriving them of food, shelter, and hope. Though I was on the opposite side of the world, my family in India felt the effects of such devastation, and through them, so did I. I would not leave my room that night, and I couldn’t sleep; I just sat and prayed that there wouldn’t be an aftershock. It all looked like a bad dream, but this wasn’t a fictional dystopia, it was reality.
When I got up the next morning, I tried to set aside my fears, but I knew that the interim tents for housing and the scant food would not be enough. I was driven to spearhead an initiative for the babies that faced malnourishment and the women that were burying their husbands.
At my next Indian Classical Music classes, I heard friends discuss the traumas from Nepal. With relief, I realized I wasn’t alone. I had the perfect group that was driven to aid these victims.
I took the initiative to lead my friends from music class to help feed and shelter affected peoples through musical expression. My plan was to mix Indian and American music and fund efforts through performances. I stayed after class for an hour weekly with my peers to work on our performance. I assigned team members and created a mashup with a friend, Keshav. We committed hours every day to finish a piece that would be presented to thousands of people in our community. I was very passionate about sharing my ideas with the world, even working until 3 a.m. for my song.
I reached out to my teacher, Mahesh Kale, for help identifying a venue, and he recommended a sizable theater in Sunnyvale, California. After several weeks of coordinating a marketing campaign, I realized my vision for bringing together a community and a group of artists to share their voices and give light to a global issue. Along with a standing ovation, our group received $5,000 for Nepal relief efforts.
After this event, I learned something about myself: I could apply my skills and talents to address the problems of today. I decided to try using chess, computer science, and math to make a similar difference. In the years that followed, I volunteered as a Bay Area Chess coach and a math tutor at Tutree and Buddies4Math in my local community. I also brought life to recycled computers using my computer science knowledge to give disadvantaged students access to educational platforms like YouTube and Khan Academy. I used my knowledge in Ubuntu/Lubuntu OS to provide such platforms and help further bridge the digital divide in America. I even raised funds for The Global Uplift Project which contributes to providing education for over 200 students in Kirinyaga Country, Kenya with improved educational facilities and curriculums.
The healing in Nepal that I took a proud part in molded me into a fearless and resilient leader who understands that though there are dark times, it is important to remain persistent in fostering hope. In college, I look forward to using my skills to keep making a positive impact in more communities and to enlighten more students on their path to success in their academic careers.
Currently, I have been accepted into the early admission pool of applicants at the University of California, Berkeley, and I plan to attend this Fall in the Computer Science major. I plan to challenge the status quo and inspire change in my local community and in communities around the world with profound resilience. I was also selected as a finalist in the Division of Equity and Inclusion where I plan to use my skillset in music to continue volunteering for my local community in Berkeley, California, and around the world. At Berkeley, I also plan to participate in Peace Corps and continuously use my resources for societal good.