Access Foundation holds key to college

Published 10:20 pm Thursday, April 10, 2014

Out of all the fantastic events I attend in Suffolk, there’s usually not one more inspirational than the Access College Foundation’s annual Suffolk Donor Recognition Luncheon.

Many people have little trouble applying to and paying for college. Sure, the applications and federal aid forms can be daunting, and the cost is growing by the year. But for middle- and upper-class, two-parent, college-educated families, they can usually swing it.

But others have trouble, which can arise from a number of issues for people of all income levels, from any race and from all walks of life.

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Whether it’s because the family is financially strapped, or because they have an emergency right around application time, or because the student doesn’t have family support, or even just because times have changed so much since the parents went to college, the Access College Foundation is there to help.

The organization places trained advisers, who have been to college themselves, in middle and high schools. In middle school, the advisers host parent night workshops and prod students to begin thinking about their futures and preparing their course schedules accordingly.

For high-school students, the foundation conducts college tours, assists with applications for college, scholarships and financial aid, helps students file for fee waivers and provides “last-dollar” scholarships to close the gap between other funding and the cost of college.

But the foundation’s services don’t stop there. Access scholars get the benefit of summer transition workshops and one-on-one and group counseling throughout college.

The results in numbers are staggering. In the foundation’s 10 years of providing services in Suffolk, 91 percent of Access scholars graduated college within six years, compared to the 52-percent national average.

But the results in the stories of high school seniors who have been helped this year are even more staggering.

Janie Raven, a Lakeland High School senior, lost her mother to cancer last year just as she was applying to colleges and taking standardized tests.

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. Some of her family members discouraged her, and she failed several times before realizing she could go to college no matter what they said.

Sahmod Earls, a Lakeland High School senior, said his family’s financial situation would not have allowed him to pay for college application fees or standardized testing fees.

Louise Gamor, a Nansemond River High School senior and daughter of immigrants from Ghana, said her Access adviser helped her “fill in the blanks” of getting into college.

These four students all will be going to college this fall to start on their dream careers — a pediatrician for Gamor, a doctor for Raven, a ceramic artist for Guy and a livestock veterinarian for Earls.

And it’s all because of the Access College Foundation. For more information, visit www.accesscollege.org.