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First-Generation College Grad Helps University of Florida Students Reach for Success

Growing up, Cherrelle “Elle” Collins dreamed of going to college like she saw on TV. She also wanted a career that would help people. Now as a first-generation college graduate, she’s living out her dream—empowering historically low-income, first-gen students at the University of Florida to reach for success like she did.

As director of the nationally recognized Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars (MFOS) Program—which JSF helps support through a matching grant—Collins works hard to ensure each student receives individualized attention and mentoring as they experience college life.

But without her own mentors guiding her along the way, she may not have pursued helping others through access work. 

Collins shares that her childhood was a mix of challenges and aspirations.

“College wasn’t something we talked about around the dinner table or dreamed about at a young age,” she explains. “I always felt inspiration from people who look like me on TV—series like The Cosby Show and how those people navigated college with success. That sparked this idea of college, and it took root in my mind as a possibility.” 

Thankfully, Collins had an army of mentors and educators supporting her during her elementary and teenage years. 

“I think about my fifth-grade English teacher and my cheer and dance coaches, who told me they saw potential in me,” she says.

As high school graduation neared, Collins and her mother began having serious conversations about her future. 

That got Collins thinking: Who did she want to be? She knew she wanted to go to college, but believed her educational outcomes needed to outweigh the cost of tuition. So, Collins focused on surgical technology, beginning her higher education journey at Niagara County Community College, outside of Buffalo, New York. In 2012, she received her associate’s degree before attending the State University of New York at Buffalo (UB) as a nursing major.

But along the way, conversations with UB administrators and professors stirred something more in Collins.

“They helped me see my potential,” she recalls. “I thought there was only one way out—I had to [study] medicine or engineering to save my family from poverty. I recognized through those mentors that I could lean into what I was passionate about. And I wanted to be in a helping profession.”

Elle Collins at University of Florida. Photo courtesy of UF Student Life, by Matt August.

These fruitful discussions helped Collins realize she could help students with stories similar to hers. So, she switched her major to health and human services and graduated in 2014. She then pursued a master’s degree in higher education administration at UB. 

During that time, she also served as assistant director for college success initiatives at Say Yes Buffalo, which helps remove educational and employment barriers for students in area public and charter schools. While there, she helped open college success centers in over 20 high schools. 

It was the start of her dream career.

Sadly, something tragic happened in her first year of grad school. Collins lost her mother. 

“Everything reminded me of what I was going through,” she shares. “My mom, who was a woman of faith, always instilled this idea that you can run from something or you can run to something. You can sit in the pain and the grief—or use it to fuel your next thing.” 

Collins took that advice to heart, determined to start a new chapter. She began job searching in the spring of 2016, just before graduation.

“I didn’t see myself in New York anymore—I thought being home would help me get through grief, but I realized I needed to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” she says. “I widened my search and started to look for other places that could give me something different.”

Collins searched with a specific idea in mind: the chance to work at a big university. 

“I wanted the sports, the bands, Greek life—those things my smaller schools up north didn’t have,” she explains. “As I went through the interview process at the University of Florida, [it felt] conversational. I could be myself. As I walked around, it gave me the feeling of what I saw growing up—what I thought college was like.”

In the fall of 2016, she moved from New York to Gainesville after accepting a housing and residence life position at UF. Less than nine months into her position, she was promoted from resident director to area coordinator. 

However, it didn’t take long before Collins told her supervisor that she was interested in transitioning into access and community work at the university. She was introduced to Dr. Leslie Pendleton, the senior director of the MFOS Program at the time. Collins says the program, a full financial need scholarship that assists historically low-income first-generation college students pursue education at UF, reminded her of a first-generation scholarship she received while at UB.

“I was encouraged to collaborate with and learn from her,” says Collins, who joined the MFOS team as director in 2022.

She says her work with Say Yes Buffalo and UF housing uniquely prepared her for her current role.

“They allowed me to hone in on leadership, communications skills, problem-solving, and strategic thinking,” she shares. “I understood not every Gator had the same experience, and we need to take an individualized approach. Housing is crisis management, it’s 24/7! I lived where I worked—so there was a deeper understanding of student needs.”

She describes her MFOS role as dynamic and fulfilling, especially when meeting with students, staff, and faculty or collaborating on new initiatives that enhance students’ experiences.

“Not every program will fit the needs of every student, so I want us to think deeply about enhancing that experience. What do first-year students need? They need help with transitions, [knowing] how to study the curriculum as a college student, and building community. Second-year students need help with their major declaration and doing more through leadership or service on campus. And the third- and fourth-year students are [navigating] that transition out.”

Each year, the MFOS Program serves over 1,600 individuals. The network is composed of about 6,000 students, including alumni and current students.

She believes the program is successful because of the approach to tailored support and a team of people with unwavering dedication to student success.

For Collins, working in the department is also a full-circle moment. 

“It’s an honor to give back and speak to the little version of myself,” she explains. “I see myself represented in many of the students’ stories, so giving back to a program that has played a similar role [in my life] is unexplainable.”

Her advice to Machen scholars? Believe in yourself, never underestimate the power of your dreams, and own your story. 

“I remember a time when I wasn’t always proud of [my story],” she says. “I believe that for many students who identify as first-generation or limited income, there can be a lot of shame associated with their journeys. Shame about leaving home, shame about not knowing all the answers, shame about upbringing. I believe there is power in owning our stories and sharing them more broadly to impact and change the trajectories of communities, systems, and structures.”

University of South Florida Student Uses Love of Reading to Impact Others

This article was written by Johnson Scholar Elaine Feaster, a student at the University of South Florida. It is shared here with permission.

A person stands by an outdoor lending library shaped like a small house on a pole and a box of children's books.

Elaine poses with a Little Lending Library at the University Area Community Park, where she donated books as part of her Girl Scout Gold Award.

My name is Elaine Feaster and I’m a recipient of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, which will help me pursue my academic and career goals. In August, I started at the University of South Florida in the College of Education. I’m so excited to officially begin working toward my profession in education—as I believe that the education of children is the foundation of our society. 

I’m studying to be a secondary social science teacher with my goal to get a PhD to eventually teach at the university level. I have always had a passion for helping others, as demonstrated through my over 475 service volunteer hours during high school, so I knew that helping others in some capacity would be at the heart of my career.

During my four years at Freedom High School in Tampa, I was a part of the National Honor Society, National Art Honor Society, National Science Honor Society, National Latin Honor Society, Key Club, Environmental Club, FBLA, Best Buddies, and the varsity volleyball team. Outside of school, I have volunteered with the Girl Scouts, YMCA, Knights of Columbus, Greater Tampa Bay Blue Star Mothers, Metropolitan Ministries, and Oasis Opportunities. I have devoted many hours to the YMCA. For four years I was a youth volunteer coach for volleyball, where I mentored, helped, and encouraged young volleyball players to develop their skills and sportsmanship.

The volunteering I’m most proud of is the time I spent working on my Girl Scout Gold Award, focusing on Literary Awareness. When I was in third grade, I was diagnosed with a reading disability, so literacy was at the top of ways I could give back. I began promoting literacy and getting books into the hands of children who didn’t have them.

This past summer I completed my Girl Scout Gold Award, where I collected and donated 4,400 books to at-risk students and communities (stamped with my website; now in total I have donated 11,500 books to underperforming schools), created a resource Literacy Portal Website—ScoutingForBooks.com—to help people understand the importance of reading, and I created a Book Buddy resource information packet (which can be downloaded from my website) on how schools can help struggling students with reading. I wanted to make a lasting impact in my community and help children, knowing that other students have similar challenges that I have.

Receiving this scholarship has helped me be able to live on campus, which I absolutely love. I’m close to my classes, I meet friends at the dining halls and pool, I’ve participated in many campus events and activities, and I use all of the study resources. USF is such a great school, with diverse communities and getting to meet so many new people. After taking a semester to get familiar with the school, I plan on joining a few clubs and organizations next semester getting more involved with the USF community. I enjoy my classes and making connections with my classmates and professors. Even though the university is big, I have gotten to know my instructors—and that connection is invaluable. I look forward to being a part of the USF community in the years to come.

Johnson Scholars Foundation Grants $50,000 to Palm Beach Atlantic University

This article was originally published by our grantee partner, Palm Beach Atlantic University. It is shared here with permission.

JSF's CEO Bobby Krause, former CFO Dick Krause, and PBA's President Dr. Debra Schwinn post for a photo while holding a check.Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) has received a generous $50,000 grant from the Johnson Scholars Foundation (JSF). The one-time grant is in celebration of Richard A. Krause, who retired as the Foundation’s chief financial officer. Krause, who is also a trustee at PBA, selected the gift to be made in his honor to benefit the university’s Bebe Warren Scholars Program, which supports students pursuing a degree in elementary education. 

 “I am happy to make this donation to PBA’s Bebe Warren Scholars Program as I step into retirement. Don Warren got me started with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation by inviting me to have lunch with him and Theodore R. Johnson, Sr. in 1990,” said Richard Krause, Johnson Scholars Foundation director emeritus and former CFO. “The university has demonstrated its unwavering commitment to educating the next generation of leaders–something that JSF also deeply supports.”

 The announcement was made at The Breakers Palm Beach during a reception hosted by the Foundation on Friday, December 1, 2023, to honor Krause.

 “We are so grateful to the Johnson Scholarship Foundation for this generous gift,” said PBA President Dr. Debra Schwinn, who attended the reception. “Dick Krause exudes integrity and his commitment to education and service is inspiring. Many of our students are deeply in need—some work two or three jobs, and many of them are first-generation students. This support will help us equip more aspiring teachers who will invest in the next generation of scholars.”

 Palm Beach Atlantic University and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF) share a longstanding history. Theodore R. Johnson and his wife, Vivian Chesley Macleod Johnson, became supporters of PBA after Founding Chairman Dr. Donald E. Warren introduced them to the university in 1982.

The JSF is PBA’s largest scholarship supporter, providing scholarships to qualified students who wish to pursue higher education but cannot otherwise afford to do so. The impact of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation is profound, with over 6,000 more than 6,000 students representing dozens of countries, states and academic programs receiving Johnson Scholarships. These students are known on PBA’s campus as “Johnson Scholars.”

“The Foundation is thrilled to distribute this gift to PBA,” said Robert A. Krause, the Foundation’s CEO and the son of Richard A. Krause. “We share the university’s values of free enterprise, leadership, perseverance and social responsibility and believe that investing in education is the best means to empower people to get better jobs, become more independent and participate more fully in our society.”

 Richard A. Krause joined the Johnson Scholarship Foundation at its inception in 1991 as a trustee and treasurer. In 2015—at age 75—he retired as a board member and treasurer. He then served as their chief financial officer, overseeing the organization’s accounting, finance, banking and investment activities through July 2023.

 Before working with the Foundation, Krause served as treasurer and chief financial officer for Rinker Materials Corporation and Gee and Jenson Engineers-Architects-Planners. In addition to his work at PBA and the Johnson Foundation, he is a director at the Marshall E. Rinker, Sr. Foundation and is actively involved with First Baptist Church in Wauchula, Florida, where he lives. He has six married children, 21 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

 The Bebe Warren Scholars Program is named after the late Bebe Warren, a retired educator and wife of the late Dr. Donald E. Warren. He established the scholarship in 2001 in partnership with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

 To learn more about Palm Beach Atlantic University, click here.

Invisible No More: Reflections During Native American Heritage Month

Sherry Salway Black is Board Vice Chair of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. She is wearing a black blazer and has short silver hair.

This article was written by Sherry Salway Black (Oglala Lakota), Board Vice Chair at Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

It’s that time of year again when we celebrate Native American Heritage Month. Officially designated in 1990 by President H.W. Bush, the acknowledgments and activities today have expanded beyond the grade school stereotype that “Indians and Pilgrims celebrate Thanksgiving.”

Much has changed over the 40+ years I’ve worked for and with Native people, communities and organizations. Now stories about Native Americans, I’m happy to say, are told all year long and mostly by Native people themselves—which has not always been the case. This November, the stories are more numerous, mainstream and educational than simply the “First Thanksgiving.”

Native people have made inroads into areas where we have not been historically. This includes the three branches of the federal government—legislative, executive and judicial.  There are five members of the House of Representatives who are Native. There had been six, but Deb Haaland, formerly a representative from New Mexico, was appointed Secretary of the Interior in 2020. She is one of 52 Native people appointed by the Biden Administration in top leadership positions at various departments, boards, commissions, and in the White House. There are now five sitting federal judges who are Native, two of whom were more recently appointed by President Biden. And on November 15, 2023 the Senate confirmed a Native person to be a U.S. ambassador.

Native people now have more of a presence in pop culture and entertainment. There are popular television series such as “Reservation Dogs,” “Dark Winds” and “Rutherford Falls”—to name a few—that have Native actors, directors and producers. While not told from the Native perspective, the recently released Scorsese-directed movie, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” showcases an unknown part of the history of the Osage people, featuring powerful Native actors. Season 2 of the four-part PBS series, “Native America,” premiered in October. It is directed and produced by Native people with active input from the community and “reveals the beauty and power of today’s Indigenous world.”

There are amazing award-winning authors such as Pulitzer Prize winner, Louise Erdrich, or author Robin Wall Kimmerer, whose book “Braiding Sweetgrass” recently spent two and a half years on the New York Times bestseller list. I don’t want to go down this road too far, as I’ll never be able to note the countless Native people who are leading in new areas and benefitting their communities with positive stories—and role models.

We should also acknowledge the great strides that many tribal governments have made over the past few decades, building their economies, preserving their cultures and creating a better quality of life for their citizens. They are doing this by exercising their sovereignty in small and large ways. Tribal enterprises and Native-owned businesses have grown dramatically over the past decade providing employment, income and the opportunity to build wealth. The number of Native-led nonprofit organizations is growing, meeting needs and making inroads in development finance, arts and culture, philanthropy, activism, health delivery and education, to name a few.

Native people have taken on the challenge of changing the narrative about their people, breaking down the stereotypes. We are not a remnant of the past, but very much alive and thriving today. Out this month is a book to share our stories.Invisible No More: Voices from Native America” is a joint venture between First Nations Development Institute and Nonprofit Quarterly. I’m honored to be one of more than two dozen Native nonprofit leaders who contributed to this multi-year effort to elevate our stories and our voices.

“Invisible No More” includes lessons for philanthropy about the importance of including, engaging and supporting Indigenous peoples’ efforts. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation has been a leader in supporting education for Indigenous people for over 30 years, providing more than $30 million in scholarships and other grants to institutions across the United States and Canada. JSF chair and former CEO, Malcolm Macleod, recently released a new book, “The Practice of Philanthropy: A Guide for Foundation Boards and Staff,” which also shares lessons learned and strategies from his more than 30 years in philanthropy.

I wish every month of the year celebrated the Indigenous people of this land. The books, movies and Native people represented in more areas and actions, such as land acknowledgments, raise awareness that we are still here—not a historical artifact.

This important work continues.

For more information about the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s work in funding programs for Indigenous Peoples, click here.

Toronto Metropolitan University Recognizes Orange Shirt Day 2023

Community members at Toronto Metropolitan University wear orange shirts and walk on a brick sidewalk. One of them is carrying a blue flag with bear paws. Another wears a shirt that says "every child matters".

Photo courtesy of Nadya Kwandibens

Every year on September 30, Canada recognizes residential school victims and survivors on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also called Orange Shirt Day. 

The day of remembrance acknowledges when children were taken from their homes and forced to live in boarding schools across Canada. There, they were prohibited from speaking their languages and often abused. These horrific events occurred from 1883 until 1996, when the last of the residential schools closed their doors.

To commemorate Orange Shirt Day 2023, Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), a grantee partner of the Foundation, held several events for community members and Indigenous peoples to reflect.

The university raised the survivors’ flag on campus to honor all survivors, families and communities impacted by Canada’s residential school system. Participants also embarked on a silent walk while wearing orange shirts. Additionally, TMU acknowledged the stark difference between the “educational” institutions and experiences for non-Indigenous and Indigenous students.

Saije Catcheway, a Johnson Scholar and third-year TMU student pursuing business management and law, recently reflected on Orange Shirt Day during an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

“I see Indigenous people as huge healers,” said Catcheway, who is also on TMU’s varsity women’s hockey team. “I think that our new generation is big for healing—and not just shining a light on the negative [parts] of our history but shining a light on how [our culture] can actually be used as a strength.”

Two community members at Toronto Metropolitan University wear orange shirts and stand outside. One of them is playing a blue hand drum and singing.

Photo courtesy of Nadya Kwandibens

As part of the university’s commitment to systemic changes that support Indigenous community members, TMU is implementing an Indigenous Wellbeing and Cultural Practice Leave, where Indigenous staff from Canada can take up to five personal days to support healing and wellbeing, including cultivating cultural interests and practices however they choose.

Indigenous students at TMU can also access culturally supportive programs and services on campus, including peer support groups and Indigenous traditional counseling through Gdoo-maawnjidimi Mompii Indigenous Student Services (GMISS).

“Reaching out to Indigenous youth and people and just asking [for] their experiences… It’s an easy step to make a huge impact in reconciliation,” Catcheway reflected.

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation funds a matching grant for TMU for program support and scholarship assistance for Indigenous students.

One Man, One Little School, One Big Dream

This article was originally published on Sept. 15, 2023 by John W. Fountain, Providence St. Mel School class of 1978 alum, as a birthday tribute to the school’s founder, Paul J. Adams III. It is shared here with permission.

A photo of the Providence St. Mel School gym, which has the words "We Believe" painted on the brick.

Two words emblazoned across the wall of the gym at Providence St. Mel embody the school’s spirit, “We Believe.” Photo by John Fountain.

Grass, emerald-green, lush and alive. Proud blades that point toward the sky. Perfectly manicured, this grass glistens beneath the sun. That was nearly 45 years ago.

And yet, for as far as I could see the other morning, standing outside the yellowish-brick castle in the 100 block of South Central Park Avenue on Chicago’s West Side, the grass still shimmers in the wind and golden sunlight—a simple symbol of promise, pride and hope, more than four decades since I first laid my eyes on it.

I don’t recall exactly the first time I saw the lawn outside Providence St. Mel, or Paul J. Adams, III—the man responsible. It must have been sometime in 1974—back when Afros and bell-bottom pants were signs of the times and the struggle to lay hold on the American dream still seemed ever elusive for Blacks in America, and we were singing James Brown’s “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud.” What I do recall clearly is the notion that grass wouldn’t—couldn’t—grow on the West Side: too poor, too ghetto, too far from the fertile soil from which sprouts the stuff of American dreams.

Back then, in neighborhoods like Chicago’s impoverished K-Town, where I grew up and had been dubbed by the Chicago Tribune as part of America’s permanent underclass, the “American Millstone,” there was plenty of evidence to suggest that might be the case: broken glass, bald lawns and vacant lots, blight, poverty and despair that flowed like a river of hopelessness.

Back then, I remember the sprinklers outside Providence, the crystal spray that doused Mr. Adams’ lawn endlessly. How, as a high school freshman, I quickly learned one of his most important rules: Don’t step on the grass, or else pay a fine.

To some, it might have seemed ridiculous or severe to impose a penalty for something so infinitesimal. It might also have seemed difficult to fathom how something as simple as grass might be proof enough that some things others deem impossible—with a little planting, watering and vision—might indeed become possible.

Paul J. Adams III at JSF's Chicago reception for grantee partners in September 2023. He is wearing a black suit and has short, dark curly hair and a goatee.

Paul J. Adams III at JSF’s Chicago reception for grantee partners in September 2023.

As a poor kid whose father had deserted me by the time I was 4, I was the kind who, like many children from similar backgrounds today, was written off by researchers, given my demographics of having been born Black and poor, and raised in the urban ghetto—hopelessly predestined to an unalterable mortal existence, never to rise. Without my mother’s decision and sacrifice in 1974 to send me to Providence St. Mel, which set me on a different path than so many of my childhood friends, I might have succumbed to the death of dreams that eventually entombs those dreams too long deferred. Maybe not.

This much is not debatable: That for more than four decades, Paul Adams and Providence St. Mel has helped lead poor Chicago children to the Promised Land of educational success and that since 1978 every one of the school’s graduates has been admitted to a college or university.

This much is also clear these days:

That for at least the last 45 years, the Chicago Public School system has largely wandered in the wilderness of “miseducation” and still has yet to fully cross the sea of red-tape bureaucracy occupied by a union that often seems more concerned for teachers than students, and by bureaucrats who, by their failure to fix the system after all this time, leave me wondering whether they ever really want to.

At 13, I saw Paul Adams as a lion of a man, his proud woolen Afro as his mane, and every square inch of Providence, including every blade of grass, as his domain. More importantly, I found inside the school’s walls a safe-haven from the perilous streets of my neighborhood. I found educational opportunity and the expectation of success. I found through one man’s vision sufficiency to dream. In Adams, I saw a Black man filled to the brim with integrity, character and commitment. An unyielding Black man who was not only willing to stand for the education and future of Black children, but also willing to fight, even to give his life for our good.

He turns 83 today.

Finding Common Ground: Mount Allison Student Aims to Help Share Indigenous Voices

Lucas Waye knows what it’s like to be on the margins. After diving into Indigenous studies at Mount Allison University (MtA), he’s ready to serve others experiencing similar challenges.

Growing up in Sackville, New Brunswick, Waye feels like he was pre-destined to attend MtA. His mother, Susan, has also worked as the college’s accessibility services advisor for as long as he can remember.

Despite being in honors, Waye used to struggle with his grades. As a person with dysgraphia, he would often receive poor marks, even if his answers were correct—because his teachers could not read his handwriting. In high school, he learned more about MtA, including internship opportunities at the Meighen Centre, which offers services and accommodations to students with disabilities. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation has provided a matching challenge grant to support academic and work experiences for students with disabilities served by MtA’s Meighen Centre.

Now in his third year and excelling in classes, Waye will be the first student at Mount Allison to earn a double major in Indigenous studies and political science. Only one other student is pursuing Indigenous studies, an interdisciplinary program that must be pre-approved by the university. Waye credits his success to MtA’s accessibility services, small class sizes, and supportive environment.

“The university offers a whole slew of accommodations,” says Waye, who is also on the dean’s list. “I can take a test by talking to the computer, which will write [the answers] for me—so I don’t have to struggle or lose marks.”

Waye recalls the moment he realized his enrollment at MtA was meant to be, after completing a particular class project.

“I’m very meticulous with my work,” Waye explains. “I spent a ridiculous amount of time [on the project] for my Indigenous Research Ethics course. I went the extra mile.”

He adds that it was the hardest experience in college yet.

“When I finished the presentation, my professor looked at me and said it was amazing—and that she wanted to be invited to my dissertation,” he beams. “It felt good because I put a lot of work into it.”

Waye’s first encounter with Indigenous studies was in high school while taking a Mi’kmaq language class. But in his first year at Mount Allison, he declared a major in political science, unsure of his future. That same year, he took Introduction to Indigenous Studies, a class that turned out to be incredibly difficult.

“The way the language is, the words and how theyre broken down, you can feel the culture bleeding through the language,” says Waye. He also took an elective called Traditional Ecological Knowledge—but this time, something was different.

“For me, it quickly became about the content of the course. I wanted to learn more,” he says. “You learn about how Indigenous cultures and methodologies are integrated with nature and have this [holistic] approach. They hold so much knowledge that we are ignoring.”

Though Waye is not Indigenous, he feels a parallel connection to the community, identifying as transgender. Like many historically marginalized groups, Waye says he fears his voice—and rights—may someday disappear.

“The more I listen, learn, meet people, and read, the more connected to the cause I feel,” he says. “Hope rests in Indigenous voices and ideas.”

After graduating, Waye wants to pursue postgraduate research. He’d like to work with Indigenous women, revitalizing their traditional ecological knowledge in Canadian literature. Still, he says it’s not about his efforts—it’s about working hand-in-hand with the communities.

“Im there to listen,” he says. “Historically, women’s voices have been underrepresented or misrepresented, and [that] is a huge disservice. I want to preserve and document the knowledge with these communities.”

While reflecting on his time at MtA, Waye recalls the importance of applying oneself and making the most out of college.

“I cut out this degree for myself, but I had to find it,” he says. “University students [often] see it as a way to get a job and then make money, but [they] should see it as a way to grow a different set of skills. You have this opportunity to make a path for yourself. If you pursue what you want with intentionality, hard work, and critical thinking, you can succeed.”

Recognizing National Disability Employment Awareness Month

This article was written by I. King Jordan Jr., Disability Programs Consultant at Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This year I had the opportunity to take part in an excellent Disability Mentoring Day event sponsored by Bender Consulting. Attendees included previous mentees, current mentors and numerous supporters.  There were activities that brought together students and employers for informal sessions about career opportunities and mentoring with volunteers at public and private places of employment. One statement at the beginning of the program resonated with me. Joyce Bender, founder and CEO of Bender Consulting said, “We don’t need a disability employment awareness month—we have plenty of awareness. What we need is a disability employment month!”

In one way, Joyce Bender was absolutely right. We certainly need more jobs for people with disabilities. In another way, we still do need more awareness. There are many barriers that must be overcome in order for people with disabilities to achieve jobs.

One of the most important barriers is the lack of knowledge of what disabled people can do. Too often the focus is on the disability—what a person cannot do, instead of what that person can do. Negative attitudes about people with disabilities and ignorance about their abilities too often prevent a genuine interview, much less a job offer.

In 1990 the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed promising greater access and employment for people with disabilities. It was an exciting time and many of us looked forward with anticipation to the positive changes that would result from this very important law. We have been seriously disappointed.  The employment rate of people with disabilities has barely ticked upward in more than 30 years since the passage of this landmark legislation.

The board and leadership of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation are very much aware of the statistics that show how adults with disabilities are much more likely to be unemployed than those without disabilities. The Foundation is committed to supporting programs that will help people with disabilities achieve educational success and ultimately employment. Some of the grantees supported by the Foundation serve children in school programs, from preschool through college. Some of the grantees serve young adults and help them acquire first jobs or serve young adults who are employed.

While we can see progress among our grantees, it is clear that there is much more work to do in order to lower the unemployment rate of people with disabilities and help support the ultimate goal of parity between the employment of people with and people without disabilities. It will be good to focus on national disability employment. Focus on jobs, not just awareness.

 

For more information about the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s work in funding programs for people with disabilities, click here.

Exploring Hearing Loss in Her Homeland

This story was originally written by Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, a grantee partner of JSF. It is shared here with permission.

Sofia, a Clarke Alum with Hearing Loss, Advances a Global Research Project

Sofia, an alumna of Clarke Schools, smiles for the camera. She has dark brown curly hair and is wearing a dark blue sweatshirt while holding a bouquet of orange-red flowers.Meet Sofia, who is currently pursuing a Liberal Arts Degree at Smith College. Sofia was born with hearing loss in Guatemala and adopted by her current family in the United States. Years ago, she attended Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech’s Preschool Program in Philadelphia to learn to listen and talk. Since its founding in 1867, Clarke’s teachers of the deaf, speech-language pathologists and audiologists have taught thousands of children who are deaf or hard of hearing the listening, learning and spoken language skills to succeed in mainstream schools and the wider world.

Children served by Clarke use advanced technologies, including cochlear implants and hearing aids, to maximize their access to sound. Following her graduation from Clarke in 2010, Sofia excelled in elementary and high school.

Entering her senior year of high school, Sofia was tasked with researching a global issue and interviewing experts in the field relative to the issue. Sofia decided to research the global effects of hearing loss, focusing on her birth country, Guatemala, and interviewed Judy Sexton, MS, CED LSLS Cert AVEd, Clarke’s head of programs and schools and interim president.

To further enrich the conversation, Judy connected Sofia with Paige Stringer, founder and executive director of the Global Foundation for Children with Hearing Loss.

“I asked questions about Paige’s work, how our country’s healthcare differs from other countries, along with how mainstreaming children with hearing loss can be hard on both the children and parents,” explains Sofia.

Through her international research, Sofia discovered there is only one professionally trained audiologist in Guatemala, Dr. Paty Castellanos.

Judy and Paige also connected Sofia with Paty to deepen her research and overall learning experience.

After Sofia’s insightful conversation with Paty, discussing the need for more Guatemala-native hearing loss professionals, Sofia discovered her passion for interviewing and researching within the international relations field and beyond. She says, “I hope to dedicate my time researching global challenges, how the world is changing environmentally and how to find ways to save our environment.”

Sofia is a recipient of Clarke’s Caroline A. Yale Memorial Fund Scholarship, designed to support the continuing education of Clarke students. Sofia intends to use the funds to fuel her academic ventures.

Outstanding Nursing Graduate Centers Career on Service

Karla Cantero-Garcia smiles with her grandmother. She is wearing a grey top and her grandma is wearing a yellow top.

Cantero-Garcia smiles for a photo with her grandmother.

Recent Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) graduate and Johnson Scholar Karla Cantero-Garcia believes she was made to serve others. After finishing high school and earning her associate’s degree through dual enrollment, she began attending PBA in 2020.

In addition to the nursing program, the Brooksville, Fla. native was drawn to PBA’s community. It was the only university that allowed her to pursue nursing while playing beach volleyball.

“Nursing is so important,” she reflected. “I think about the second commandment—to love others as you love yourself.” 

But the decision to pursue a career in nursing came from hardship. In 2019, Cantero-Garcia’s sister lost her baby during labor.

“It was really hard to go through as a family,” she said. “I have never seen someone bounce back like my sister. I knew at that moment that I wanted to be an obstetrics nurse.”

Cantero-Garcia learned about the Johnson Scholarship last year while seeking financial aid.

“I asked for help, and it fell into my lap,” she said. “College is not cheap. You already have the stresses of nursing school, so to have the finances [taken care of] reminds me how faithful the Lord is. For JSF to do that financially—while I couldnt do it on my own—means the world to me.” 

Earlier this year, Cantero-Garcia received a phone call from one of her professors, who shared more good news.

“The phone call came at a perfect time,” she said. “I was going through the loss of my grandma. We’d always talked about my graduation. She was my number-one supporter.”

During the call, Cantero-Garcia learned that she’d been elected as the 2023 outstanding graduate in the School of Nursing. 

“My heart was filled with joy—I couldnt stop smiling,” she said. “When Dr. Jane Wilson said that the faculty [chose] me by name, it was great to know my hard work was paying off.”

Cantero-Garcia credits her faith and family for her success.

My parents have always been proud of me,” she shared. “Coming from a Hispanic household, the drive was to always ‘do’. My mom would always say in Spanish, ‘Do everything as if it were for the glory of God.’ It was ingrained into my being.”

And ‘do’ she does. Cantero-Garcia has already started the master of science in nursing program at PBA. She said she’s looking forward to getting her foot in the door at a nearby hospital—or going back to school for her doctorate in nursing someday.

“Looking back, I didnt feel as if those tears or headaches from staring at a computer screen for so long would amount to something—and it did.”