ACCESS opens doors for seniors

Published 10:31 pm Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Suffolk high school seniors shared their stories of how the ACCESS College Foundation has opened college doors to them during the annual Suffolk Donor Recognition Luncheon Tuesday.

Held at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, the event honored donors for their support. The foundation has provided college information to 13,000 students since 2003, helped them secure $47 million in financial aid and provided 184 ACCESS scholarships worth $1.4 million. Last year, the program provided information to 890 Suffolk students, and eight scholarships worth $70,000.

King’s Fork High School senior Illyssia Boose, 19, received help navigating the college process, getting waivers for testing and college application fees, even when she had to retake her SAT. She said without the help from ACCESS adviser Adrienne Miller, she’d likely get a job after high school or would still be trying to figure out what to do with her future. Miller’s help, Boose said, motivated her to want to go to college. She said she didn’t believe she would even go to college until she met Miller.

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Boose lost both of her parents within a short period of time — her mother died during her junior year, and over the Christmas holidays, her father died from kidney failure. She said Miller helped her through her grief and kept her focused.

“At this point, I just started losing any kind of hope of getting into college, because I was ready to just give up,” Boose said. “I still can’t believe that both my parents are gone, but Ms. Miller has refused to let me give up … and now I’m still pushing my way through.”

Boose, who paused while she spoke, held Miller’s hand through the rest of her speech and said she hopes to study psychology at Virginia Union University in Richmond.

Lakeland High School track standout Nicolas Horton, 18, plans to attend Old Dominion University and said he was thankful for the opportunity to attend college. With help from ACCESS, he said he’ll have just $1,200 in yearly expenses for however long he attends ODU, and he expects potential scholarships and grants to cover much of that remaining total.

Horton, now 18, moved to Suffolk from Pensacola, Fla., to live with his grandmother. On the surface, he had a normal family. Beneath it, he described it as anything but.

His father, mother and older brother battled drug addiction, and his dad was in and out of jail. He did not go to school from seventh through ninth grades and was 14 when he realized he needed to get back into school.

“I needed to get right and get my life together,” Horton said.

After a move to Suffolk to live with his grandmother, Horton, though old enough to be a sophomore, enrolled as a freshman. He was all-in on his education, and he found a place on the Lakeland track team.

“I was just glad they didn’t put me back to seventh grade,” Horton said, laughing.

Until he talked with his ACCESS adviser, Shawn Foster, he said he only wanted to keep his grades up so that he could run track. That was until she asked him a key question.

“What do you want to do after you graduate?”

“I don’t know,” Horton replied. “Maybe college?”

From there, Horton was a regular in her office, going over college applications, financial aid, registering with the NCAA Clearinghouse to be able to run track in college, and securing fee waivers for SAT testing, all of his college applications and the clearinghouse registration.

“She does a really great job, and honestly, she’s changed my life,” Horton said, “because, I’m not even going to lie, some of that college stuff, I look at it, and I’m like, what in the world is this.”

Horton said he had no regrets about coming to Suffolk, and said his mother and brother are now clean, and his father will get out of jail later this year.

Amajin Roberts, 17, of Nansemond River High School, said at the beginning of the year, she did not have any idea where she wanted to go to school. With help from her school’s ACCESS adviser, Charlene Harvin, she learned about scholarship opportunities and gained insight into the college application process.

Now, Roberts has been accepted to seven schools and hopes to attend Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina. She said she wants to use what she’s gained through ACCESS to become an elementary school teacher in Suffolk.

“I didn’t know that we had so many donors and so many people that would give money to students, basically like us here,” Roberts said. “I’m so thankful for them, and just having her help me in being such a role model and taking me on college tours has been so helpful.”

Suffolk Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Dr. LaToya Harrison said ACCESS is vital to helping students do all they can to overcome barriers to go to college.

“I’m proud of them and what the future holds for them,” Harrison said.