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When Ms. Obama Calls, We Answer

In a message to the White House email list last month, the first lady asked Americans to make a local commitment to help at least one young person make his or her way into higher education. Generation Hope is answering Ms. Obama’s call to action: 

Generation Hope is making college a reality for young people whom we often dismiss from the college conversation -- teen parents.

Generation Hope (supportgenerationhope.org) supports teen parents who are pursuing a college degree. The students we help are our “Scholars”: By finding funds to support them, and matching a mentor to each young parent, Generation Hope paves the way to college for young parents who have children of their own—and helps break the cycle of poverty in America. 

Like Ms. Obama, we believe in the power of education. Less than 2% of teen mothers earn a college degree before age 30, and the cost to taxpayers associated with teen childbearing is $9.4 billion, according to The National Campaign. We want to break this cycle that affects so many young Americans. A college education is our weapon. And we’re making progress every day. 

Since our founding in 2010, we have provided nearly $55,000 in tuition assistance, supported 26 Scholars, celebrated two college graduates, and presented college-readiness workshops to more than 275 high school students who are pregnant or parenting. With support from mentors, our Scholars do well in their academics and careers. The list of successes is many: One Scholar who recently graduated from the program and works for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is now working on her master’s degree. Another is a fine arts teacher at a private school.  

Generation Hope can thrive only when people understand and act on the White House’s conviction that an education is the first step to changing lives. In the case of Generation Hope—the parent's, and their child’s.

 Scholar Marikit Williams with her daughter Maleah.  Marikit graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in December 2013.

Scholar Marikit Williams with her daughter Maleah.  Marikit graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in December 2013.

A Community in their Corner

 Megan at our 2013 Fall Field Trip to the National Building Museum!

Megan at our 2013 Fall Field Trip to the National Building Museum!

In graduate school, it’s easy to think that your life is far more busy, complicated, and stressful than anyone else’s daily routine. As a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, I certainly find myself sliding into this pool of self-pity at times. Then I think about the phenomenal Scholars I’ve gotten the chance to work with through Generation Hope. These young women are just that—Scholars—and many of them the first in their families to attend college. Not only are they managing demanding course loads, but our Scholars are raising families of their own, working both part and full time jobs, and staying actively involved in their campuses and communities (one Scholar serves as President of her school’s student government!).  Their perseverance really puts my “PhD problems” in perspective!

As a first generation college student myself, I have experienced both the incredible challenges and opportunities afforded by higher education. Navigating the bureaucracy of college was completely overwhelming at times—and I was only taking care of myself! Thus, I signed up to volunteer with Generation Hope the very same day I learned about what this organization was doing to help young moms make their educational goals a reality. After meeting with Generation Hope staff, we realized that one of the most challenging transitions in college is the huge leap in the rigor of the coursework. Also, because our Scholars have responsibilities beyond their own schooling, their professor’s office hours aren’t always accessible for their schedules. So, we began a tutoring program, matching local volunteers with varying types of expertise with Scholars who need help in a particular subject area. More than that, our volunteers have helped students apply for scholarships, look over resumes and cover letters, proofread papers, and even just help with general college study skills. It’s been awesome to see our Generation Hope family grow through these partnerships, and the encouragement our Scholars feel through such strong support from the community! So far this year, we’ve matched almost half of our Scholars with tutors, showing just how necessary this program is and what a huge difference it can make in their lives.

We are always looking for more tutoring partners, especially in the math and science fields! If you’re interested in learning more about volunteering, just fill out the application on our website!

-Megan Fitzmaurice, Tutor Program Coordinator

Spreading the Word about College in DC

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Did you know that October is College Awareness Month in DC? You may think that most young people know about college. However, the reality is that many young people—especially teen parents—do not have the information they need to make informed choices about their futures. Every member of our 2013 Scholar class is the first in her family to go to college, which means that even if they hadn’t experienced a pregnancy, going to college might not have been in their plans. Additionally, once a young person who is considering college becomes a parent, they are often discouraged from attending or told that it is no longer an option.

But college is an option for teen parents. Our Scholars are proving every day that it is possible for teen parents to not only survive but thrive in higher education. They are some of the hardest working students that you will find anywhere—they know it is essential for them to get their degrees in order to ensure better lives for their children.   

All teen parents must receive the message that college is an option. They can be encouraged to dream big for themselves and for their children. To achieve this, we conduct college-readiness workshops across the D.C. region to help inform expecting or parenting high school students about the possibility of attending college. We want them to know that college is an essential step to ensuring economic stability for their families. This year alone, we will conduct at least 39 workshops at 15 schools and community organizations.

“College awareness” is about more than just sharing the importance of a college education with students—they also need the tools and resources to make the goal a reality. That’s why, in our college-readiness workshops, we provide extensive information about the pros and cons of different types of colleges, the ins and outs of the financial aid process, recommendations for how to “make it all work,” and more. We hope our efforts will result in all D.C. area teen parents reaching their full potential! 

 -Caroline Griswold, Program Manager 

A DREAM of Equal Access to Education

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has always been a hero to me.  I grew up watching his speeches and coloring his picture in school. Even at a young age, I admired his dedication, his compassion, and his ambitious views of freedom and equality for all people. Without a doubt, Dr. King has shaped my view of social entrepreneurship, leadership, and innovation. 

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington, we are all thinking about the hopes and ideals expressed that day and just how far we have come.  The March was a call for change in terms of racial inequality in America during the 1960's, but it touched on injustices across the human experience.  Fifty years later, the fight is not over.  We see evidence of racial inequality in this country each day.  We also see a growing chasm between "the haves and the have-nots" with lasting implications for our nation.

You have heard this quote:  "education is a right, not a privilege."  Yet, the costs of higher education, in particular, grow farther and farther away from the clutches of low-income youth.   Last week, President Obama announced his plan to make college more affordable.  In his speech at the University at Buffalo, he said: 

At a time when a higher education has never been more important or more expensive, too many students are facing a choice that they should never have to make: Either they say no to college and pay the price for not getting a degree — and that’s a price that lasts a lifetime — or you do what it takes to go to college, but then you run the risk that you won’t be able to pay it off because you’ve got so much debt.

College has never been more important.  The average salary of a four-year college graduate is $45,000 per year.  Individuals with a high school diploma are making half that much annually.  For young parents -- the population we serve here at Generation Hope -- $21,000 a year is not enough to provide a safe, stable, home for themselves and for their children.  Putting food on the table and staying healthy is a daily challenge.  Our community, and our country, will only be as strong as the families that comprise it.  When one family falls, it affects us all.

We have to do three things to address this inequality 1) spread awareness among the most disadvantaged youth that college is possible, 2) provide adequate support to increase their likelihood of graduation, and 3) enact legislation that ensures access to higher education for all. 

In the words of Dr. King:

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

We must be deliberate and tireless in our fight for true equality. 

- Nicole

An EARLY Saturday Morning Creates Long-Lasting Impact

On Saturday, July 27th, my alarm went off much earlier than usual —6 a.m., to be exact. Even as my “sleeping mind” groaned, though, I quickly jumped out of bed. I knew that Saturday was going to be an exciting day because on that day, we officially welcomed 13 new Scholars and 13 new Sponsors into our program!

Our day started off hectic—unloading cars, finding DC parking, and getting situated in the Metropolitan Community Church of DC, which had graciously allowed us to use their beautiful church for the occasion. We had delicious food on its way from Bean Bag Deli & Catering, and Scholars and Sponsors started arriving early! It was so great to see each group start to talk amongst themselves and hear about the path that had brought each of them to Generation Hope.

I had the pleasure of facilitating the ice-breaker activity for the Sponsors, and the range of stories, occupations, and interest areas they shared with each other was incredible—doctors, lawyers, communications professionals, therapists, educators, and more are all represented in this class of Sponsors! Equally diverse is our new class of Scholars—they come from all over the DC metro region and are pursuing majors ranging from Nursing to Computer Science to Early Childhood Education to Criminal Justice. It was also wonderful to have two of our current scholars, Angeline and Marikit, and one of our current Sponsors, Angela, on hand to talk about their experiences and answer questions.

By far the most exciting part of the day was the big “reveal,” when each Scholar and Sponsor get to meet each other for the first time. Although I had had nightmares about awkward first meetings and unhappy matches, our careful matchmaking had indeed paid off, and the room was immediately full of excited hugs, introductions, and chatter. Watching these individuals who I had spent so much time matching on paper actually meet one another and start their mentoring journey was certainly one of the most rewarding aspects of my time with Generation Hope so far, and DEFINITELY worth getting up at 6am to see! 

- Caroline