founding story

In my 16 years in education, I know one thing to be true. Getting to college is tough, but getting through college and doing it alone is even tougher.

The cost of college has gone up more than 179% over the last 20 years. That means that if I went to Baylor in 1996 (I did) and it cost me $8,070 for tuition (just tuition, nothing else); it should have nearly doubled! Yet 2016 tuition is actually $34,480! (And the all-in cost of attendance at Baylor is now $54,000.)

I know, that’s a lot of exclamation points. You get it, college students need help paying their college bills. And that is essentially how edfurther came to be.

edfurther.org is a non-profit crowdfunding site for college scholarships. The mission is simple–to ensure that financial need is never a barrier for furthering an education. Donations are safe and tax deductible.

Every kid has a story—a past, a present, and a future. And you can read up on the edfurther scholars here. These are incredible young people, handpicked for their work ethic and commitment. There is one whose story will resonate with you. Just pick one. Help one. If you don’t know which one, make a general donation, and I’ll help direct it for you.

But this is about the edfurther story. I am 40 years old (well, 41). I still owe on my college loans. I worked hard to scrape by in college and have the debt (and degrees) to prove it. My career in education has been to increase opportunities for low-income students.

Four years ago, I saw a tweet (yes, on Twitter) from a Spring Branch and Genesys Works alum who needed $252 in three days to stay enrolled for his senior year. He didn’t know who to call. We got it fixed, but the situation stuck with me. From James’ story, edfurther was born.

And here we are, I set up edfurther and launched a pilot. edfurther.org is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a secure site that will process credit cards through PayPal or Stripe (I even take checks) for college scholarships for students who need us. Now after two semesters and 24 students, we have raised a little over $12,000! Fees are not passed on to students, so 100% of your donation goes to pay their college bill (checks are written to the universities).

Will you prove that this work matters? Prove that we believe in them. Every gift matters and adds up to a bigger scholarship to keep a scholar on track.

I got this

Arue had a tough time last year. Her great uncle who had raised her in many ways was diagnosed with cancer. Her mother had to quit one of her three jobs to care for him and get him back and forth from hospitals and doctors on the bus. An only child, Arue wanted to come home to Houston and leave Wooster. Her mom said, “No, you still have work to do.”

Together, Arue and I raised $570 for her tuition. Her uncle passed away this summer and more life changes seemed to keep coming, but together Arue and her mom stood strong together. I asked her about renewing her edfurther scholarship and this is what she wrote:

Thanks to edfurther I have started the semester off strong. I am starting on my Independent Study Research and am excited to see how it turns out!

People have been really kind to me and I am really grateful for that. I was able to keep my old job working on campus as a barista 17 hours per week, so I hope to do okay this semester and be able to pay some/most of the tuition bill in the spring. I know 17 hours doesn’t seem like a ton of work hours, but somehow this year seems more stressful than the past 3 years, so I’m not sure if I could handle more hours. Maybe that’s how it’ll keep getting as I get older.

I am studying for the GRE and I hope to take it on October 29th, if everything works out and if I can send my registration fee on time. I will be applying to graduate programs this fall and early spring semester as well.

I want others to have the opportunity that I had this summer with edfurther, so I will not be renewing my scholarship page. I know there are so many students who have greater financial needs when it comes to college, and I want them to have this opportunity. Thank you for checking up on me and I hope you and your family are doing well.

This is why this work matters so much. One hand up to get across the threshold of a challenge…

james beeks: almost out of options

From research, it is said that less than 2% of undergraduate students in the United States participate in study abroad. As a person from an underserved community, my dream of leaving the country had finally become a reality. The five weeks in England seemed to pass by in the blink of eye. I returned to the piney woods of East Texas only to be burdened with the stress of paying off the remainder of a tuition loan. Plan A of working to pay off the $600+ balance was in effect, but as the fall semester inched closer, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of defeat; I did not have the sufficient funds to cover the remaining loan balance.

Plan B of working out a payment solution with the university business office did not work, so I began to accept the reality of spending my final year of college at home. As with many millennials, I voiced my stress through the 160 character limit on Twitter. I had a built a strong following and previously connected with Chris Gonzalez, a fellow Spring Branch ISD and Genesys Works supporter. My thoughts prompted a direct follow up with Chris and the mentorship began.

At this point in my life, I felt as if I exhausted all of the resources I could possibly depend on such as family (low income), school (financial aid), and personal. There was no Plan C and I believed that my time at Stephen F. Austin was coming to a close due to finances.

With guidance from Chris Gonzalez, a resolution was in sight. As a next step, Chris put me in contact with Dr. Klussmann of SBISD, who delivered a solution. With this assistance, the financial need I had was fulfilled and I was excited to start my final year of college without a financial burden. I was now able to focus on finishing strong and applying my study abroad experience to the remainder of undergrad and beyond.

As I walked across the stage a few months later, I reminisced about this moment, as being significant for me to not only graduate, but graduate on the 4-year mark. The support is needed by many students who are out of options. #Crowdfunding #ToAndThroughCollege #SelfReflection

Chris’ Note: James’ experience gave me the idea for edfurther. I knew it shouldn’t have to be that hard to get across the finish line. He was so close, and a $250 gap was about to make his graduation impossible. So close and yet so far away. 

selfishness or selflessness

I just returned from six days of reflecting on myself and my place in the world (ALF Wilderness), during which I learned from our diverse community, their experiences, their purposes, and their hearts. I am better because they have enriched me. I have not felt this great sense of focus, self, and hope since college. Yet I worry that too many college students don’t get to truly be hopeful.

While in a valley near a natural rock sculpture under Pike’s Peak, I reflected on many things including this topic:

Are the best college students selfish? College is a time to educate yourself and grow into the next stage of your life–the time when you contribute to society (and create income). To be the best student, you must focus on yourself (and maybe your place in the world) and study to grow more. You set aside the problems at home or in your community. You leave it all behind you. You focus on you. Maybe you listen and learn from others or volunteer, but it is still about focusing on the YOU you will become.

Is this focus by nature a selfish act?

For me, college was about selfishness. I may have worked to pay for food and rent and borrowed to pay tuition, but I could focus on Moi (and I got to waste time on a French minor and classes like French Cinematography).

For too many of my edfurther students, “letting go of problems” seems impossible.

  • Arue worries about her mother being alone after her uncle’s death.
  • Astrid pays her brother’s tuition for UT before she pays her own.
  • Ariel is a father has knows his work hours are undependable (sometimes too many, sometimes too few). College matters but so does his daughter.

Their hearts are huge. They are not selfish. They are young and have big dreams. College is their path, they need our support.

I hope you will join me in giving our college students permission to be selfish, just for these few years, so that they can be selfless in the future as they make the world a better place.

back to school

This time of year buzzes with excitement and energy. New school clothes, shiny shoes, crisp binders, pens, and paper. Even the backpacks sparkle.

I know that back-to-school time is expensive for families. Trust me, I know. I have four kids who need all that new school stuff. And it’s a tough time for many of our college students trying to head back for fall semester. Their financial aid award letters are coming in and some are lower than expected. They are anxious about payment plans and what to cut from their educations.

  • Will I drop a class and hover just above full-time status?
  • Will I choose to drop my meal plan or cut back to one meal per day (stashing fruit and snacks into backpacks for the other meals)?
  • Will I have to find cheaper off-campus housing?
  • Will I delay buying books until later in the semester, missing out on critical learning time at the beginning of the semester?
  • Will I not be able to go back?

For too many college students whose families don’t have extra money in the bank, the answer to these questions ends up being  a sad, disheartened “Yes.” (And in this case, yes is bad.)

And this feels like a broken promise. These are hardworking kids who have done everything else right.

They need your help today. Many of our edfurther students need to close their scholarship accounts in early August to get their finances ready for fall and still have large gaps to fill.

If everyone who saw this post gave one student $10, we would max out all of their scholarships. But let’s be realistic, if everyone who felt a niggle in their gut to help, gave $20, we could change the world.

The giving process is easy. Click on a student (really any one because they are all equally in need), grab your credit card and select PayPal or Stripe both of which are safe, third party vendors who process credit card contributions.

Will you change the world with me?  

change happens: astrid gonzalez

By Astrid Gonzalez 

Change happens all the time. I have no problem with change; I welcome it. I always thought I’d study political science and then go to law school. Yet life played out differently, bringing a new, uncharted path.

Dreams

I had dreamed about being a lawyer and the decision to not follow this road was not an easy one. I could have allowed my parents to take on debt for me. When the time came to make the final decision, I told my parents that under no circumstance were they allowed to borrow money for my college tuition. And that was that. I no longer had the same plan.

Reality Check

I proceeded to look for an affordable education (I may not be attending and became a full-time student at Houston Community College. I am proud to have attended HCC. Besides saving money I completed two degrees just a year after high school. I have also been able to work and save money for my brother’s education and dreams. He will study mechanical engineering at Texas A&M in the fall.

Now on my continued quest for a bachelor’s degree finances are a problem again. But my life’s purpose keeps me focused.

My Purpose

My grandmother beat cancer once, but five years later it came back for round two. Once again she refused to put her life on hold and kept to her routine of looking after her property, crops, and livestock. She refused pills to help ease the pain, because even though they made the pain go away they would kill her faster on the inside. Unfortunately, she succumbed to the strategic metastasizing blows of cancer.

Seeing the pain cancer brought to my family and not being able to meet my grandmother made me determined from a young age to contribute to the efforts in finding a cure for such a horrible disease.

Gratitude

I am grateful for the support of my parents, family, friends, and investors like many of you that allows me to stay on track to reach my goal. I also plan to support my youngest brother as well in two years when he graduates from high school, because this is what big sisters do.

Invest in Astrid’s future and scholarship here. 

obscure majors

6 things all German (or other obscure) majors should know.

Though there are probably 10 other more researched articles to disagree, I believe your major matters less than you think. If you do have an obscure major like German (and live in Texas), then you have to be very smart about your time in college. Here’s some of what I suggest.

  1. Make sure you are active on campus, in work, and in the community.
    Join a service organization. Tutor community kids. Get a part-time job. Intern at a big company. Do things that are worth doing and talking about in interviews and when networking (see #5).
  2. Double up and double major. A concrete and specific second major like business or accounting never hurts. It also rounds out your skills. It doesn’t have to align with your other major but should give you more worldly context and options. Options are always good.
  3. Explore your passions while you can.
    Today is the day to become well rounded and gain new experiences. Trust me this wisdom and knowledge will come in handy in life when you least expect it.
  4. Get to know your profs personally.
    Ask for help and build personal lasting relationships. Beyond their wisdom today, they will be awesome references later.
  5. Network.
    Whether through internships or campus events in the other colleges, meet people often. Follow-up with with handwritten thank you notes (yes, they always work).
  6. Find internships that round out your resume.
    Get experience in where you are headed not where you have been. Yes, you should get paid for these jobs–don’t get me started–but you also need a resume that tells the story of your potential. And no matter what job you have, make a lasting impression on customers, team members, and managers by giving it your all.

And let’s be honest, all of this is probably good advice for every college student, whether your major is obscure or specific.

changing the world for nigeria: phyllis nwokolo

Read Phyllis’ words yourself and see why I believe an investment in her education will truly change the world.

My name is Phyllis Nwokolo. I am going to change the world, and this is my story.

I remember living in the city, waking up to the hustle of food vendors in the corners of the street calling out to customers, the sound of the motorcycles, or as we called them the “okadas”, experiencing the highs and lows of the fickle electricity, playing outside with the neighborhood children poor and rich alike, and then going to bed with the dying but still persistent music of life in the city. However, when we drove to the village to visit relatives and come together as a family, I seemed to be transported through a tunnel to a world of a very simple but difficult way of life.

To a child like me it was the best, where my routine was wake up, play, and sleep, but as I grew up and continued to visit the village, that tunnel I went through as a child broke away and opened up into the crippled and pot holed roads we took, and expanded to encompass the poor women and children competitively selling bread to try and sustain themselves, and the poverty stricken shacks, and houses. Nevertheless, these people, despite their circumstances, are still happier than those who reside in mansions with a surplus of wealth. The village was never the same and my innocent and ignorant view of the world was shattered.

These memories of my experiences in Nigeria remained with me even as I relocated to the land of milk and honey, the United States of America to unite my family and start anew. Even though I left Nigeria, I left with an understanding that my life goal is to alleviate the negative stereotypes associated with poor areas rich in culture and so much more like my village and to medically empower the people of these villages through education and accessible healthcare.

This passion was cultivated while I attending Harmony Science Academy; where teachers and counselors, such as Ms. Spears, aided me by not only educating me about the world I planned to change, and how to go about accomplishing my goal, but also by helping me understand that that I have the power and can attain the knowledge I need to make my passion a reality ¬ a priceless lesson ¬ . With this intensified passion, I am now successfully pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science degree in public health, a minor in biology, while on a pre-med track.

Through the higher education I am currently receiving, I don’t just dream to change the world through medicine, I am now formulating a plan to do so, and the first step to graduate and become a medical doctor. However, the first step is being threatened by a lack of financial stability, and that’s why I’m asking for your help. My father is a dislocated worker, and he was the main financial support for our family, so with his source of income gone, we are under a lot of financial stress. My desire to achieve my goal knows no bounds and I would greatly appreciate your support to help make it possible.

Learn more about Phyllis and invest in her college scholarship fund here

taking risks

I take risks for a very simple reason–because our kids do every day.

Yesterday, I took a big risk for me. I gave Northbrook High School’s graduation speech in English and Spanish. English was the easy part. Spanish, on the other hand, was a bit tougher. You see, contrary to what you might think about my last name. I am not Hispanic. My husband is. I also don’t speak Spanish and have never taken real Spanish classes, though I did spend 3 weeks one summer trying to learn in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

So giving a speech in Spanish is a risk for me. It’s scary. It’s daunting. And it is 100% out of my comfort zone. And like most risks, if you take the chance, people will support and applaud you. They may fake it a little but they will rise up and support you when you show your vulnerabilities. And that is exactly what happened.

I said: “Tomorrow you are going to take big steps and try new things that are very scary. So today, I am going to do the same thing.” And I promise, no one was really listening. I am not the point of graduation. The kids are.

And then I said: “Buenas tardes. Mi nombre is Chris Gonzalez. En nombre de la Junta Directiva, damos la bienvenida a nuestros heuspedes…” And the crowd got quiet and then they clapped. They cheered. And they made me feel safe, all 450 graduates and their parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters. The abuelas and abuelos, some who had not understand any of the ceremony up to this point but were there for all the right reasons–their grandkids, reassured me with their gentle love. I felt loved. And I felt safe. The community knew that my risk was scary.

And I choked up. I choked up with the love in the room. And I don’t know if the kids will remember to take risks, but I just hope for one minute they saw the vulnerability and the love of doing what is scary, and will take that next step and enroll in programs in the fall or stay in college when it gets scary or hard

And I know you know this, but the edfurther students are doing just that. They are taking risks, sharing their stories, their vulnerabilities, and hoping the community will support and believe in them.
I’ll let you decide if you will.

#proofpointday: ariel trevino

A first-generation college student, Ariel Trevino’s story is one of hard work and service to others. One of the first students to attend a new charter school at Rusk Elementary–Project YES (later known as YES Prep Public Schools). Ariel thrived and grew under the Youth Engaged in Service (YES) model. Every week, students served the neighborhood–planting trees, creating books about recycling, and volunteered at the Covalescent Center in Second Ward and played games with senior citizens which included Monopoly, Chess and a local favorite Dominoes.

Through high school at YES Prep, Ariel was a part of the “Soccer Four”–four buddies who kept each other out of trouble, studying and learned together, and gave their hearts to soccer. He remembers doing Mr. D’s (Desrossiers) proofs together and how no one could beat them. Even when they played against eight players, they won. They were always better together. 20160503_062655_2

As his 12th grade government teacher, I remember the Soccer Four and Ariel’s steadfast focus on learning. His heart was apparent in everything he did. He was excited to be headed to University of Houston after graduation. He had “made it.”

At UofH he lived on campus, was in the Honors College, and played club soccer. He was on the dean’s list. Ariel was studying Mechanical Technology and doing well.

Things have never been easy in Ariel’s family. They are what they are; not easy and not impossible. After two years of mounting debts, learning that he wouldn’t be allowed to take classes in the fall until he paid tuition, and family problems, he let his dream go. He didn’t return for his junior year. Ariel took care of himself but the dream seemed to slip away. He worked in deliveries. He worked in restaurants. He continues to work in catering at the George R. Brown Convention Center. This first-generation college student didn’t believe he would ever be a college graduate.

11220459_10207287130110095_4283552021829783522_nAnd then he had a daughter, and Arlet loves learning at KIPP Explore where she is in kindergarten. She loves being a “BRIGHT Explorer” (top of her class) and “on The Team” (excellent conduct). She enjoys reading books and coloring with her Dad, but most of all she loves field trips to learn about animals and science.

Arlet is going to college. And her dad is going to make sure nothing can stop her by getting his degree first so that Arlet will be a second-generation college graduate.

Chris Barbic, YES Prep’s Founder says this about Ariel, “Ariel Trevino occupies a special and big place in my heart. I have known home since 5th grade and he started at YES Prep when it was Project YES at Rusk Elementary. He graduated in one of our first classes and his mom, a terrific, hard working woman, worked at YES Prep for several years. Love him and his family. He is a great kid working hard to finish school and a prime reason why organizations like edfurther are so important. Hope you’ll help Ariel reach his fullest potential.”

As Ariel works hard in catering to pay tuition and bills, I hope you will consider investing in his college dreams by clicking here.