As an ambitious high-school junior preparing for college, Yasmine Arrington found no financial aid programs for students like her, with a father in prison since she was a toddler. Her initiative, ScholarCHIPS, offers financial support, mentoring, and group workshops to recipients in the Washington, D.C. area who are among the millions of children in the United States with incarcerated parents. To address the financial and mental-health impacts upon these children, ScholarCHIPS seeks not simply to provide tuition, but a full-fledged support network, something Arrington knew was essential to her success. Over the past five years, ScholarCHIPS has awarded more than $80,000 to support scholars, but more importantly, has evolved the scope of the program in response to student needs. To address an “experience gap” among disadvantaged students, for example, the program includes an emerging culture component using theater and art to boost student achievement. Other workshops offer critical skills in time management, study habits, and sexual health. To further ease the path through college, students receive a scholarship and book award each year without having to reapply, as long as they maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA. Through its tailored approach to mentorship, ScholarCHIPS ultimately seeks to tackle the most sobering statistic concerning children of incarcerated parents—70 percent will one day be imprisoned themselves—by breaking the cycle of intergenerational incarceration.
ScholarCHIPS is a proactive, holistic approach to breaking the cycles of intergenerational incarceration and poverty one student at a time. Studies show that at-risk youth are successful when they have strong support networks in their lives and exposure to arts and culture.
In 2010, as a junior in high school I was a fellow in LearnServe International, a program that teaches youth how to become social change makers. I was asked to identify an issue in my community that I wanted to see change, and at the time that issue for me was a lack of local and national resources for youth with incarcerated parents. When I discovered that more than 2 million young people in the United States have a parent in prison, like I did, I knew I had to do something!
Most people do not believe that I can be a student and run a non-profit at the same time. The key is good time management. I have been doing this work since high school, and though I am a graduate student now, my dedication to ScholarCHIPS and to youth with incarcerated parents keeps growing with each student I can help support.
Many individuals are dedicated to mentoring youth and providing them with the tools they need to be successful: Wintley Phipps and the U.S. Dream Academy; Nicole Lynn Lewis and Generation Hope; Rev. Dr. W. Wilson Goode, Sr. and Amachi; Dr. Harold Trulear and his work with helping churches develop ministries for congregants with incarcerated family members; David Shapiro and MENTOR; Herb Tillery and the College Success Foundation; and Jessica Johnson and The Scholarship Academy.
Raynna Nkwanyou is one of our scholars who exemplifies everything that ScholarCHIPS represents. When Raynna was in high school, her home was raided and her mother was taken away. Raynna was forced to live with an older sister, yet she did not lose her focus. She is now a graduating senior at Old Dominion University, planning to pursue a dual master’s degree in law and public health. Raynna has defied the odds, achieving academic excellence while giving back to her community and paying it forward!
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