Helping Kids Get to College

Cristian and Tri graduation photov2

You may know that Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas works hard to have immediate, positive impacts on children’s lives by matching them with supportive mentors. But you may not know that BBBS also works hard to positively affect children’s futures by emphasizing education, encouraging academic achievement, and offering college scholarships to Littles. This year BBBS proudly celebrates the 30th anniversary of its college scholarship program.

“In 1986, the Griffith family provided an endowment to start a scholarship program for BBBS students,” said John MacNary, BBBS’ scholarship program manager. “They wanted to strengthen the mentoring relationships we had and they recognized that a good education provides an important foundation and creates new opportunities for success.”

Any child in the BBBS program who is 14 years old and who has been matched with a mentor for a year is eligible to receive a $2,000 scholarship for use at a 2 or 4-year college, university, or accredited trade or technical school.

Students can earn an additional $500 per year for each additional year that their match remains active, up to a total of $4,000. Since the program began, BBBS has promised 2,500 students more than $5 million dollars in scholarship support.

“We enhance the program by partnering with other organizations to create events that encourage kids to enter, and stay, on the path to college,” John continued. Two of these events, Rock Enroll and Financial Aid Saturdays, are underway this spring.

Rock Enroll was conceived as a way to motivate at-risk students to pursue higher education. “Because music appeals to young people, my initial idea was to hold a concert for kids who took positive steps to attend college. That concept became Rock Enroll, a BBBS booth at the free SXSW Education Expo. Every student who attends the Expo receives a guest pass to a free concert. Over 30 colleges and numerous businesses are represented at the event which provides students with information and assistance regarding opportunities for post-secondary education.”

Financial Aid Saturdays are another education-related initiative BBBS offers in conjunction with the Austin Chamber of Commerce and Google Fiber. FAS workshops are designed to help graduating seniors understand and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This national application is required to apply for federal financial aid for colleges and universities.

“Scholarships are intimidating,” John continued. “A lot of kids think they won’t qualify. For the BBBS scholarship, every child who is 14 years old and who has been matched for a year, qualifies. That’s all they have to do.”

“Receiving the BBBS scholarship was a great relief to me and my family,” added Cristian Vazquez Cuadra, a former Little. “Before even applying to colleges, my Big Brother told me that college could get crazy expensive. At the time, I thought he was messing with me. But now, being in college for my second year, I see that these college book prices are no joke. Thanks to the BBBS scholarship I am able to buy all my books on time.”

Most BBBS Bigs are college graduates as well, so they can help their Littles understand the importance and benefits of a college education, as well as the steps involved in pursuing higher education or vocational training. Many of the students involved in BBBS’ scholarship program are first-generation college students.

“We’re making it real for kids,” added John, a first-generation college student himself. “Through our scholarship program, our emphasis on academic achievement and the education-related programming we offer, we’re investing in kids’ futures. We’re showing them we believe in them and that we know they can succeed. A good education is critical for success and it’s one of the areas where BBBS is making a difference… one that will have impacts for years, and generations, to come.”

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