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Scholarship makes attending Catholic high school possible


Alicia Youngblood, a senior at Creighton University in Omaha, said her positive high school experience would not have been possible without a scholarship from the Black Student Catholic Scholarship Fund. Photos by Lisa Schulte
Chrystine Russell, who attended Duchesne Academy in Omaha, said she is 'set for life' thanks to the Black Student Catholic Scholarship Fund.

By LISA SCHULTE
The Catholic Voice

Alicia Youngblood and Chrystine Russell are successful young women living in Omaha.

Youngblood is a senior at Creighton University majoring in pre-law and accounting. Russell, a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, works with students who have behavior problems at Sunny Slope Elementary.

Both women attribute their success to hard work and a strong support system. And a lot of credit is given to their ability to attend a Catholic high school "“ something that wouldn't have been possible for them without the Black Student Catholic Scholarship Fund of the Archdiocese of Omaha.

'I think, honestly, because of the fund, I'm set for life," Russell, 23, said. 'I might not have the job that I always wanted or things I always want, but I have everything I need and the basis for that was going to a Catholic high school and getting into the scholarship program."

The Black Student Catholic Scholarship Fund, established in 1994, enables qualified black elementary school graduates from families of limited and moderate means to attend local Catholic high schools. To date, 65 students have received the annual scholarships, which began as $2,000 and have grown to $3,500.

In addition to providing tuition assistance, students are paired with adult mentors who meet regularly with them to provide tutoring, advice and friendship. Students also get work grants with the scholarship program.

'We're trying to get people who want a good education, a value-centered education and to enroll them to the criteria of good citizenship," said Tessie Edwards, chair of the fund's board of trustees.

Scholarship winners are selected based on financial need, recommendations, transcripts, and a 10-page application, which includes two essay questions on why they want to go to a Catholic high school and why they want to go to the high school they've chosen. Applications are sent to all Catholic grade schools and some community organizations, such as Girls Inc., and Boys and Girls Club in Omaha.

Students don't have to be Catholic to be awarded scholarships, Edwards said.

'We want students who will succeed," she said. 'We have got to eliminate the myth that black students cannot learn academically."

A multi-leveled education

Youngblood, who received a diversity scholarship "“ a full-ride scholarship "“ to Creighton, attended public school before going to Roncalli Catholic High School, and later to Duchesne Academy, both in Omaha. Her high school experiences, she said, gave her the environment and support system she needed to do her best both academically and socially.

At Duchesne Academy, she attended college preparation sessions and learned proper etiquette for interviews and social events. And at both high schools she had the opportunity to volunteer in the community "“ something she continues to do as a college student.

'It was definitely a good experience," said Youngblood, who has volunteered at St. Benedict the Moor Parish in Omaha and helps incoming freshmen and high school seniors apply to Creighton.

She also plans to be a mentor with the program after college.

'This scholarship is helping students like me come to college and better themselves," Youngblood said. 'I'm going to continue to help out no matter what."

For Russell, the opportunity to attend Duchesne Academy was the fulfillment of a dream.

'I loved it. I absolutely loved it," she said. 'The reason I wanted to go to a Catholic high school and that my parents wanted me to go to a Catholic high school is that you are there with people who, for the most part, want to learn."

At Duchesne Academy, her skills were fine tuned and improved, she said, and the guidance she received from her high school teachers, as well as their friendships, helped her do well in college.

'College was a breeze compared to Duchesne. They taught you how to write papers so well," Russell said. 'They were really trying to prepare you for not just passing high school at average, but at above average and excellent standing, and to go on to college and be in excellent standing there and to prepare you for the real world."

Attending Duchesne Academy also allowed her to grow spiritually and, like Youngblood, to do service work in her community. Russell has been involved in Habitat for Humanity, tutored at Blessed Sacrament School and is an altar server, song leader, lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion at her parish, Blessed Sacrament.

Russell said another benefit of the scholarship program is the connections she has made with people in the Omaha community.

'I met a ton of people through the scholarship community that are now connections that I have in the school system," she said. 'If I ever have a problem or need help with something, I have about 10 people that I can talk to and who will be there for me and I wouldn't have had that without the scholarship."

Improving lives all over

Edwards, who taught in Catholic schools in Omaha for 46 years, including 23 years at Creighton Prep, supports the scholarship fund because she said it benefits both the black students and the Catholic schools and is needed in the city.

In her years of teaching, she said, 'It became very clear to me that our students needed to be in the Catholic schools and that the Catholic schools needed our students because there wasn't a balance in the charity and justice that we talk so much about in theology classes, but fail to live in our daily lives."

With the presence of more black students in the Catholic high schools, the lives of many young people in Omaha have been enhanced and possibly changed forever, she said.

'We are so grateful to the generosity of people in Omaha. That's how we get our money, through the generosity of the Omaha community, both Catholic and non-Catholic," she said.

Edwards said her hope is that the scholarship winners 'will be positive, productive people in society and that they will help to make this democracy really succeed because they're intelligent people."

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Contact the Office of Black Catholic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Omaha at 554-8493.

FUND BOARD OF TRUSTEES

"º"º Chairman "“ Tessie Edwards

"º"º Secretary "“ Sister Jude Graham, RSM

"º"º Treasurer "“ Patrick Coyle

"º"º Chair of Finance Committee "“ Kevin Quinn

"º"º Chair of Fundraising Committee "“ Jim Esch

"º Chair of Mentoring Committee "“ Sister Clare Maureen Connolly, SSFS, and A'Jamal Byndon

"º"º Chair of Scholarship Committee "“ Ovalyn Grice

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