“… 14% of community college students are homeless…” (Washington Post-3/15/17, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel).
How do kids survive when they are college age and homeless? Unfortunately, many of these students were in foster care and have to work to pay college tuition.
When the Matthew Gaffney Foundation met Jonathan, he was living with a friend; his grandmother had just died and Jonathan had nowhere to go. Jonathan was orphaned at five years old when his father was convicted of killing his mother. Now sixteen, Jonathan had no guardian and no future.
We worked with Jonathan to get his SAT test scores up and to make sure he was taking competitive courses. Jonathan played football, but his game wasn’t strong enough to get recruited to play in college. He applied to the University of Vermont and was accepted. His financial aid package did not cover all his “demonstrated need.” UVM gave him scholarships and government loans, but he still had to come up with a $10,000 “family contribution.”
I called UVM’s financial aid office to explain that Jonathan had “no family” and asked for a loan to cover the family contribution. The school said they could not give him a loan because he had no assets. They were right. Jonathan’s only assets were his grandmother’s car and her social security payments. However, he would lose the social security benefits when he turned 18. Once again, Jonathan faced homelessness.
Jonathan was an affable young man. When it became obvious that he could not afford to go to UVM, members of the New Canaan, CT community came together to offer Jonathan financial support for the remaining $10,000; he was grateful but was uncomfortable about the offer. The Gaffney Foundation knew there were other colleges who could afford to give Jonathan better financial support, but by that time, colleges had already accepted their in-coming freshman class. This meant that he would have to attend a 5th year at a boarding school and reapply to college in the fall.
Jonathan took the advice of his football coach, Lou Marinelli and applied to Bridgeton Academy in Maine. Bridgeton is an all boys academy devoted to athletes who need another year of high school so they can mature physically and academically. Bridgeton gave Jonathan a job in the admission office to help him with spending money and a $22,000 scholarship. This meant that we had to find another $22,000 in scholarships in order for Jonathan to finish the year.
Coach Marinelli and the Gaffney Foundation worked tirelessly to come up with the tuition. By January, The New Canaan Community Fund together with scholarships from New Canaan High School met his financial need. Finally, Jonathan was going to be able to graduate from Bridgeton.
Jonathan applied to St Lawrence University and was accepted with a handsome financial aid package. However, now he did not have is grandmother’s social security payments, and he was still basically homeless. He applied for a summer position as a counselor at Camp Kiev and in the following September, he attended St. Lawrence University.
The following year we met Isaiah. His mother was a crack cocaine addict. When Isaiah was five, his mother’s boyfriend took Isaiah and his two sisters in the dark of night to stay at his mother’s house for safety. Eventually the state intervened and the children were sent to foster care. Isaiah did well in Norwalk, CT public school, but he was transformed into a great student when he met us and began to believe he could actually go to college. Isaiah also applied to St Lawrence University, but when he filled out his FASA financial aid form, he had to use his foster parent’s financial information. Even though Isaiah’s foster parents were not responsible for his education, they were still his legal guardians and according to financial aid rules, their assets were considered to be available to Isaiah.
When Isaiah received his acceptance to St Lawrence, using his foster parent’s financial information, he realized that he could not afford the $20,000 “family contribution.” But when the Gaffney Foundation reviewed his file with his guidance counselor, we discovered that Isaiah turned 18 in January, and therefore, he was legally on his own. Isaiah’s mother was still living in New York City. Now Isaiah was able to use her financial information for his FAFSA form. We asked the financial aid officer at St Lawrence to reconsider his application, and they awarded him an excellent aid package.
Jonathan and Isaiah no longer worry about becoming homeless. They have both graduated from St Lawrence. Isaiah is working in a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. Jonathan is teaching fifth grade in Philadelphia’s inner city. He is taking graduate courses in Education at Drexel University. “I understand what these kids are going through,” he said. “It is my way of giving back.”