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Getting to Know Thanks USA

ThanksUSA provides college, technical and vocational school, need-based scholarships for the children and spouses of U.S. military personnel from all five branches of the Armed Forces, including the National Guard and Reserves.

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Roughly 2.9 million military family members in the US don’t wear the uniform but “serve” too; 560,000 service members claim 1.1 million children as dependents. And there are more than 100,000 military children ages 17-22 in active duty households.

Scholarship applicants are eligible for grants if their military family member has served 180 days since September 11, 2001, and preference is given to spouses and children of the wounded and fallen. Since 2006, ThanksUSA has awarded nearly 4,000 scholarships totaling $12 million in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

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College affordability is one of the greatest burdens facing military families who largely depend on a single income — an average annual salary for an E9 over 20 years of service is $46,000 plus variable housing and cost of living allowances. According to Blue Star Families 2016 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, military families are 27% less likely to have dual incomes than civilian families.

ThanksUSA seeks to lift part of this burden with the gift of scholarships. Each ThanksUSA scholarship is for $3,000, which may not seem like a large amount but most military spouses and children receive some form of tuition assistance because of their family finances. An additional $3,000 goes a very long way — enabling the scholar to drop a part-time job; to pay for travel expenses, books and fees; or to close the gap between affording and not affording a more expensive school.

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ThanksUSA began as the “brain blast” of two sisters, Rachel and Kelsi Okun of McLean, Virginia, while on a family vacation in August 2005. They became fascinated with the appeal of treasure hunts. The girls wondered about using the appeal of treasure hunts to inspire children and their parents to support a national goal. Asked what that mission should be, the girls said they wanted to help the families of military troops. They were inspired by their neighbor, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Lanier Ward, who had been severely injured in Iraq. Although the girls had already sent care packages to soldiers overseas from school and church, and had written letters to soldiers, they wanted to do something more.

ThanksUSA’s military family scholarship program was born out of compassion and a simple idea, and over a decade later, ThanksUSA is still inspired by Rachel and Kelsi’s passion for helping military families.

One of ThanksUSA’s most exciting times of the year is the opening of its scholarship application, April 1-May 15, and the subsequent awarding of scholarships to these applicants. Year-round we work hard to get the word out about our scholarship program and to raise awareness and funds to award as many scholarships as possible to deserving military spouses and children. We look forward to learning about our new scholars – their journeys, their ambitions, and their passions – and following them throughout their schooling and beyond.

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ThanksUSA is also extremely excited about our weekly Wounded Veterans Adaptive Tennis Clinic at East Potomac Tennis Center in Washington, DC. In February, we kicked off this clinic as a way to give back to wounded veterans by providing a sport that acts as rehabilitation, as well as a fun way to stay active and socialize.

The clinic is taught by PTR Adaptive Tennis Certified, USPTA wheelchair certified and 2015 PTR Maryland Member of the Year, Brenda Gilmore. Brenda says: “It’s been quite rewarding for me to see not only the progress of the participants but to see how much they enjoy each other’s company as much as they do learning to play tennis. I think this is truly one of the highlights of their week!” And it is truly the highlight of ThanksUSA’s week as well! Getting to know the veterans and their stories, and watch as their passion for tennis grows off the court, is a rewarding experience.

ThanksUSA has plans to continue this clinic into 2018, and there is growing interest in beginning clinics in additional cities.

A great day at ThanksUSA is spent at one of our events – including our military appreciation days and our golf and tennis tournaments – where our military and their families are appreciated and thanked for their service. Getting out and about in such active environments with our supporters, who meet and get to know our troops and their kids and spouses, all while raising money to boot, is a great reminder of why ThanksUSA works hard every day!

America’s troops and their families deserve our respect and our thanks for their selfless service. Members of the United States Armed Forces have borne significant burdens to protect this country, and we can’t let their contributions be forgotten.

Anyone can reach us by visiting our website, www.thanksusa.org, or by messaging us on Facebook. Any questions or comments can also be directed to ThanksUSA Executive Director, Michele Stork at MicheleStork@thanksusa.org or (703) 855-4108.

We happily accept volunteers for our events throughout the year. We know there are many people who also have a passion for serving members of our Armed Forces and their families, and we look forward to working with them! Here are some of our upcoming events in the Washington DC region:

May 8: ThanksUSA Charity Golf Tournament
May 27: Tennis Thanks the Troops All-American Family Day Bash
October 25: Treasure our Troops Gala

Another way to engage with ThanksUSA is to like and share our posts on social media:

Facebook: ThanksUSA
Twitter: @ThanksUSA
Instagram: @ThanksUSA

Mentoring helps students gain access to College

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Only 46% of low-income students matriculate to college, according to the US Census. Most of these students are afraid they can’t afford college and that huge debt will burden them and/or their families. At First Generation College Bound (FGCB), we break down misperceptions about college affordability and accessibility, and strive to improve our students matriculation and graduation rates.

Our College Access program works with 150 first generation students annually. Countering the perception that low-income students must win a scholarship to attend college, our program welcomes students with a 2.0 or greater GPA and helps them tackle the financial aid process. Many students receive need-based aid assistance that they didn’t know they qualified for. Our students are ready to make successful transitions to colleges that are the best fit for them and can compete academically with their more affluent peers.

Most of our students must overcome long odds to attend college and obtain their degrees. Mentoring enables our students to overcome barriers which have prevented many first generation college students from attending and graduating from college.

In one-on-one coaching sessions and in workshops, we constantly instill college bound attitudes in our students. Our outstanding College Access Coaches develop customized plans for students, empowering them to surmount barriers blocking their way to their goals. Preparing them to do well in the SAT and maintaining a college bound transcript, we remind our students they can compete academically. We demonstrate attending college is affordable and accessible by showing our students how to leverage aid available to attend college.

For more than 27 years, our college access mentoring has ensured 93% of our students matriculate to college, twice the national average, and 64% of our students finish their degrees in four years, twice higher the national average of 33% for low-income students, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.

FGCB is striving to develop support services and training for other organizations and programs. We hope other groups will want to replicate our highly successful model. If more groups adopt our mentoring approach, we’ll come closer to realizing our vision: one day all Marylanders will have equal access to affordable college educations.

You can learn more about our work by visiting www.fgcb.org

7 Questions: Dr. Rachel Mazyck, President of Collegiate Directions, Inc.

Today, we’re happy to share 7 Questions answered by Dr. Rachel Mazyck, President of Collegiate Directions, Inc. Before joining CDI, Rachel spent two years as an assistant to the Chief Academic Officer in the Baltimore City Public Schools. Among other duties, she oversaw strategic planning, managed the budget, and coordinated the work of the academic departments. Rachel graduated with Highest Distinction and Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After spending two years with Teach For America as a 4th grade teacher in Indianola, Mississippi, she earned a Master’s in Education Policy from Harvard. She then attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, earning a D.Phil. in Education for her research on the factors influencing African Caribbean families’ secondary school choices. Continue reading

Stimulating Change: LearnServe International’s 4th Annual Panels and Venture Fair

The Figuring Out College Success team after their big win at LearnServe's 4th Annual Panels and Venture Fair

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

This past Thursday, I had the pleasure of being a judge at LearnServe International’s 4th Annual Panels and Venture Fair at the School Without Walls. LearnServe International empowers high-school students from around the DC area who have the motivation (but perhaps not the means) to make a difference. Through their Fellows Program, LearnServe helps guide students through the creation of their own “social venture.” This year’s Venture Fair featured 60 young entrepreneurs who represented 30 high schools in 4 different counties. What do all of these young entrepreneurial minds have in common? They all helped to design 45 different social ventures with the goal of serving their schools and their communities.

In the cafeteria of the School Without Walls, LearnServe fellows set up their presentation boards and prepared to discuss their ideas with leaders from both the business and community worlds. Students were split into 4 groups: DC Public and Charter Schools/PG County Public Schools, Montgomery County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools, and Independent Schools. Students were judged based on three different categories: innovative ideas, presentation boards, and their venture pitch. Awards were presented to the one group from each category that received the overall high score from the judges. Winners won a certificate, a book, and a pro-bono consulting service session with business leaders from different companies in the area.

As a judge, I reviewed five different ventures, each one as impressive as the next. It was extremely inspiring to see high school students who were all so motivated to make changes within their communities and beyond. Of all the ventures, one group that I judged not only caught my eye, but had the highest score in their geographic region, and therefore, won. Figuring Out College Success (FOCS) is a venture started by Nancy, Zora, Yousef, and Spencer, all sophomore students, with a goal of making the college preparation and application process easier for students. Whether they are students from international backgrounds, working class families, or first-generation college goers, the mission of FOCS is to help effectively transform the frustration and discouragement of the unknown into motivation to pursue the college path. As four young students who have not yet been through the college preparation or application process yet, their goals proved to be one of the most impressive portions of their venture proposal.

  • increase enrollment in Honors, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes by 10%
  • ensure participants, by mid freshman year, have a developed relationship with their counselor and have a plethora of extracurricular activities under their belt
  • have participants by mid sophomore year create a pool of teachers for recommendations
  • have junior year participants who by their second semester have a full resume and have visited multiple 4-year institutions up the East Coast
  • ensure that by senior year participants have applied to multiple colleges and have set up permanent financial plans for the school they’ll be attending

As a first time judge for the LearnServe Venture Fair, I was blown away by the original and transformative ideas that these young people had come up with. It’s refreshing to see so many young people willing (and able) to change the world, and LearnServe provides them with a great platform to do so. Congratulations to all of the winners, the participants, and everyone at LearnServe who helped to put on an extremely stimulating event. To learn more about LearnServe International and all of the programs that they provide, click here.

The Loan Crisis

By Hannah Lardent, Catalogue Development Associate & Executive Assistant

In recent weeks, the student loan crisis has become a hot topic — due in part to the impending deadline for Congress to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling. The New York Times article, “A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College” (May 13) offers real life examples of the harsh realities of student loan burdens; and this infographic from LearnVest shows that the average debt burden for graduates is $25,000, while the median starting salary is just $2,000 above that.

On May 10, Community Partnerships Coordinator Marie LeBlanc and I attended a briefing at the White House on College Affordability hosted by the Office of Public Engagement. There was a panel discussion, keynote from Vice President Joe Biden, and a Q&A session. Members of the audience included college students from local universities, campus action groups, and players in DC community engagement. Catalogue was proud to be included in the discussion.

The briefing focused on the Obama administration’s efforts to make college more accessible and affordable. And while student loans will continue to be a reality for a high percentage of college graduates, he hopes to make repaying those loans as manageable as possible. If Congress does not act by July 1st, student loan interest rates will double from 3.4% to 6.8%. Keeping student loan interest rates low helps keep college accessible. If you are interested in getting involved in this political issue, reach out to your Congressman.

A college degree is an essential factor in economic mobility and prosperity. By 2018, 63% of new jobs will require at least some college education. And while DC currently has one of the highest concentrations of individuals with college degrees, the city also possesses a deep wealth gap. But thankfully, numerous Catalogue nonprofits are tackling the problem of college access and affordability in the greater Washington area. Here are just a few:

College Bound: College Bound targets under served junior high and high school students who have the drive and desire to attend college.Each week, students meet one-on-one with college-educated mentors who assist them in math, SAT prep, and college admissions, with the goal of improving the District’s historically low test scores and college-attendance rate. Mentors explore scholarship opportunities and help students navigate the college application process.

Reach for College!: In the District, only 43% of students graduate high school and nearly half of those never attend college. So every day, as part of their academic schedule, 2,000 students in more than 40 classes in DC use Reach for College!’s curricular materials to boost their skills in college-level reading, writing, and time management. Classes in SAT prep, college selection and application, and financial aid, help them navigate the application maze.

The Posse Foundation: The Posse Foundation identifies public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential who might otherwise be overlooked in the college admissions process. It helps them pursue personal and academic excellence by placing them in supportive, multicultural teams (“posses”) of ten students that act as traveling support systems. Posse expands the pool from which top universities recruit students, helps create more inclusive campus environments, and ensures that Posse Scholars persist in their academic studies and graduate (an astonishing 90% of them do).

In The News …

For homeless single dad, nothing’s easy, even when it’s good (Washington Post: Local): “Hours later, after he produced his ID with no fixed address, his Social Security card, his medical records, the paperwork for Kai, the letters from readers, two tellers still wouldn’t cash it. Finally, a branch manager took him into her office, closed the door behind them and listened to his story. [...] If this is the process to simply cash a check when you’re without an anchor, imagine how hard it is to find work, housing and child care when your address is a shelter and a 1-year-old is clinging to your neck.” Juan Jordan, who recently received a place at the former DC General Hospital with help from the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, daily faces a specific array of challenges in securing food and shelter for himself and his daughter — precisely because it is just the two of them.

Program That Sends Urban Students to Elite Colleges Comes to Houston This Fall (New York Times via the Texas Tribune): Catalogue nonprofit the Posse Foundation is now expanding to the Houston Independent School District! “Teachers, principals and community leaders will get to nominate students to become members of the city’s inaugural “posses” — groups of students from large, urban districts organized by the Posse Foundation, which sends them to elite colleges and universities as a unit to serve as a pre-established peer support network.” Since its inception in 1989, Posse has grown “grown tremendously, sending more than 4,000 students from eight of the country?s largest cities to about 40 universities. Those students have netted nearly $500 million in scholarships [...] and have a graduation rate of 90 percent.”

How Do Your Nonprofit’s Online Numbers Compare? (Huffington Post): “The 2012 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study showed nonprofit online fundraising grew for a second year in a row, driven largely by an increase in gifts to rights-based nonprofits. While the response rates to fundraising email messages stayed fairly consistent for nonprofits in 2011, the average rates of new Facebook fans, mobile subscribers, and people who took action from an advocacy email soared.” Among the notable results? By December 2011, “nonprofits on average had 70 percent more Facebook fans than they did at the start of the year” and “the number of email subscribers responding to calls to action online [... had] increased 28 percent.” M+R principal Bill Wasserman suggests taking similar stock of your own numbers and brainstorming how to improve them in 2012.

Classroom Character

From “What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?” by Paul Tough, New York Times Magazine, Education Issue:

“But as Levin watched the progress of those KIPP alumni, he noticed something curious: the students who persisted in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically at KIPP; they were the ones with exceptional character strengths, like optimism and persistence and social intelligence. They were the ones who were able to recover from a bad grade and resolve to do better next time; to bounce back from a fight with their parents; to resist the urge to go out to the movies and stay home and study instead; to persuade professors to give them extra help after class [...]

Continue reading

Pictures for the Day

Today, catch a glimpse into … The Black Student Fund, which provides vital support services and financial assistance to DC area African-American students as they navigate the application process, graduate from high school, and move on to college. Many students are the very first in their families to progress to higher education.

This past spring, the Annual Senior Reception and Alumni Induction Ceremony was held at the US Navy Memorial and celebrated the graduation of BSF’s senior class members, all of whom will be attending college in just a few weeks. Their amazing matriculation list includes Yale, Stanford, Morehouse, Howard, American, and Colby. These photos show seniors wearing their BSF “stoles,” which they receive upon induction into the Alumni Association. The graduates appear with Executive Director Jeanie Collins Carr and Board Chair Joel S. Kanter.

And as a new school year begins, you can support the next BSF class on their journey towards graduation and higher education.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freshman Fall

Before long, freshman orientation will begin at colleges and universities across the country. Dorms will fill up and students will move away from home, many for the first time in their lives. Some joke that the hardest part of college is getting in, but staying in often proves far more challenging. As the Washington Post Education Review points out:

The members of the incoming Class of 2015 have been lectured on the value of a college degree for most of their lives. But getting that degree has never been more expensive, especially at a time when some families are dealing with unemployment, cut wages and other financial hardships. Record numbers of freshmen are arriving on campus already stressed out, and campus resources are stretched thinner by demand. Continue reading

“Skipping” High School

A fast-paced new initiative is set to launch this coming fall in Prince George’s county:

This fall, 100 ninth-graders will attend classes on the campus of Prince George’s Community College in Largo through a public school initiative called the Academy of Health Sciences. They’ll start with typical classes from high school teachers in such subjects as English, biology, math and Chinese.

By 11th grade, administrators expect these students to be immersed in college life. They’ll have meal plans. Ninety percent of their classes will be with professors and college students. Many are expected to earn enough credits to receive an associate’s degree along with a high school diploma. Continue reading