From left, Sahmod Earls, Janie Raven, Louisa Gamor and Samantha Guy are four of the many Suffolk students who have been assisted by the Access College Foundation since it extended its services to Suffolk 10 years ago.
From left, Sahmod Earls, Janie Raven, Louisa Gamor and Samantha Guy are four of the many Suffolk students who have been assisted by the Access College Foundation since it extended its services to Suffolk 10 years ago.

Foundation fulfills college dreams

Published 9:55pm Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Janie Raven’s mother died of cancer in the spring of her junior year, right when she was trying to visit colleges and take admissions tests.

Nobody in Samantha Guy’s family has ever been to college before, and some of her family members discouraged her from trying to do so.

Sahmod Earls wants to be a veterinarian, even though he was scared of animals when he was a boy — but his family’s financial situation wouldn’t allow him to pay application and testing fees on his own.

Louise Gamor’s parents emigrated from Ghana, and she hopes to be a pediatrician. Many problems have come up during the process of her trying to apply to college, she said.

All four of these Suffolk high school seniors will be going to college this fall, thanks to the work of the Access College Foundation, which held its annual Suffolk Donor Recognition Luncheon on Tuesday at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Deran Whitney said it’s easy to support the Access College Foundation, because the group’s good work is plain to see.

“It’s truly remarkable,” he said. “We hope you will continue to do it.”

Now in its 10th year in Suffolk, the foundation provides a number of services from middle school through college graduation to help students get their education.

Through advisors posted in all three of Suffolk’s high schools and half its middle schools, it holds parent night workshops; assists with applications for college, scholarships and federal aid; conducts college tours; helps students file for fee waivers for applications and standardized tests; and provides “last-dollar” scholarships to close the gap between other funding and the cost of college.

Once a student has been accepted to college, the foundation holds summer transition workshops and provides one-on-one and group counseling throughout college.

In the foundation’s 10 years providing services in Suffolk, 91 percent of Access scholars graduated college within six years, compared to the 52-percent national average. More than 2,500 Suffolk students have been helped in finding funding for college — about $25 million in funding. More than $375,000 has been awarded to 310 Suffolk students in “last-dollar” scholarships.

The four students who spoke at Tuesday’s event had powerful stories of how the Access College Foundation has helped them.

Janie Raven, a senior at Lakeland High School, said she and her five siblings were from a low-income family in North Carolina, where her mother tried meticulously to save money.

“Before couponing became a reality TV show, I was living the reality,” Raven joked.

But her speech took a somber turn when she revealed her mother had been diagnosed with colon cancer in Raven’s sophomore year of high school. She tried several forms of treatment, but “eventually they couldn’t do anything more for her,” Raven said.

Her mother died on March 28, 2013.

“I have no clue what I would have done” without the Access College Foundation, Raven said. At a time when her family was swamped with hospital bills, her advisor helped her apply for fee waivers for the SAT and college applications. She now intends to attend the University of Virginia in the fall to earn a degree in biochemistry with a pre-medical track.

Samantha Guy, a King’s Fork High School senior, will be the second in her family to graduate high school, but only the first to go to college.

“I had a lot of my family members who discouraged me,” she said, adding that she failed four times and got put in remedial classes. “I was on the path that was deemed fit for me.”

But when she discovered art, she said, “My art replaced my anger. Only I could choose which path to take. I wanted to be the first to go to college.”

Her Access advisor helped her fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

“My father and I were clueless on how to fill it out, and it asked crazy questions,” she said.

But now, she’ll be attending Alfred University in New York to major in ceramic art.

“I will be going to my dream college,” she said.

Sahmod Earls, a Lakeland High School senior, was afraid of all animals — even bugs — when he was a child. But after his mother prayed for him, he was in the yard the next day catching frogs and insects.

“I learned the power of prayer at a young age,” he said.

Later on, his family’s many pets — including goats — helped him get through some rough times.

“With my financial situation, there was no way I would have been able to pay for college applications, ACT or SAT tests,” he said. Access College Foundation helped him, and he will be attending Virginia State University to pursue a career as a livestock veterinarian.

Louise Gamor, a Nansemond River High School senior, said the Access program “filled in the blanks” for her.

Her parents grew up in Ghana, sleeping amongst mosquitoes and walking five miles to the nearest water source.

“My mother’s adolescent life limited her,” Gamor said. “She was happy to know her children would be able to become anything they wanted, without limitations.”

She said her advisor taught her the importance of meeting deadlines for all the things required in the college admissions process and also introduced her to Virginia Commonwealth University, where she’ll start toward her goal of becoming a pediatrician, during a college trip.

For more information on the foundation, visit www.accesscollege.org.

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