Perhaps because this is an election year, we're hearing more inspirational stories about how anyone in America can make good, how children from impoverished families can achieve greatness.
In Northeast Ohio, such stories aren't hard to find. Just ask anyone involved with Cleveland Scholarship Programs Inc.
Cleveland Scholarship Programs, founded in 1967, is the oldest, largest, most respected and most emulated college-access program in the United States. On average, it awards $2.5 million in scholarships to more than 2,000 individuals annually. For the second year in a row, Charity Navigator, the largest national nonprofit evaluation service, has ranked CSP as one of the country's top-10 "consistently excellent" charities.
In addition to helping families and children gain access to postsecondary education, CSP offers academic planning, college counseling, career advice and opportunities, financial aid advice and resources, scholarships and all-around general encouragement.
Jimmy Malone, of the "Lanigan and Malone Show" on WMJI Majic 105.7 FM, learned about CSP a decade ago. He, his wife, April, and daughter, Angela, began making donations. "We started at a small level," he says. "Now, it has grown to 26 scholarships of $3,000 each to start, with extra money earned based on grades."
Malone's generosity doesn't stop there. Recipients of his scholarships are given his phone number, e-mail and home address. "They call with good news or bad. We keep in touch all of the time," he says. "Some more than others. They know that there is somebody there if they need them."
Corttrell Kinney needed Jimmy Malone. While a student at John Hay High School, Kinney was considering a biology major in college. He participated in the John Hay/Cleveland Clinic medical/biological thematic program, doing a yearlong research project at the Clinic and holding down after-school and summer jobs at Case Western Reserve University.
But according to his mother, Marsha Kinney, "I knew John Hay didn't provide what he needed for college. He was lacking in chemistry and math." Recognizing the importance of a college education, she attempted to enroll Corttrell in the Post Secondary Education Option at Cuyahoga Community College. But time constraints made that impossible.
Marsha then looked into the Morehouse College Summer Program, designed to help prepare students for college with classes in math, chemistry and English. For a single-parent household living in what Corttrell describes as "a run-down apartment building that wasn't suitable for living," applying to the Morehouse Program was a stretch.
"My mother paid for it on her credit card," he recalls. "I took the classes and then spoke with the dean of admissions about enrolling for the fall semester."
Corttrell earned a 3.9 GPA that summer. He gained a partial scholarship from Morehouse and, for the first year, $1,000 from Cleveland Scholarship Programs. It was in his second year that he became one of the recipients of the April Malone Scholarship, ultimately receiving $2,500 for the subsequent years, making him the recipient of one of CSP's largest scholarship awards.
"Jimmy Malone wanted someone who had a good, positive outlook on life," he says. "Someone from Cleveland Scholarship Programs suggested me."
Malone sent him money for books. "He even sent me money out of pocket. He did this several times for me, in varying amounts from $50 to $150," Corttrell remembers. "I would call him from college and talk about problems and he was always willing to listen."
Malone says that to this day, he and Corttrell remain close. And the money was well spent: Kinney is currently a candidate for a Ph.D. in physiology at Case.
CSP's connection with Corttrell was not solely through Malone. Prior to attending Morehouse, CSP counselors helped Corttrell with SAT preparation and the entire college application process. "I would bring them information and they would help me fill out forms, fill out the FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid] and took me step-by-step through the process."
Kinney's story is not an isolated one. Khalel Hakim, now a Ph.D. candidate at Michigan State University, attended Aviation High School, which he refers to as "not a college-prep school." A track star, Hakim was recruited with a scholarship to Kent State University.
"I wasn't aware of things that were needed," Hakim admits. "The whole process of credits, years to get a degree. -- Since neither of my parents were college graduates, I went in blind. All I knew was what they had taught me: that I should work hard."
Hakim spent his freshman year at Kent "thinking everything's cool."
In his second year, things started falling apart. The track coach left. Hakim's scholarship money left, too. With encouragement from his brother to drop out and earn $10 an hour at home, Hakim left Kent.
Seven years later, he tried college again, this time attending Cleveland State University.
"At 17, I didn't know what to ask or how to formulate information that was given to me," he says. "They spoke about credits and about hours needed to graduate. I didn't know what they meant."
Hakim credits CSP with providing the support he needed. "Support makes the difference," he says. "Many things I still didn't know, but they were there to advise me. They knew people at Cleveland State. They suggested meeting with a person who became my adviser. I met with the Office of Minority Affairs. I'd bring my schedule and they would offer suggestions."
With only enough money to pay for his first semester at CSU, Hakim says he "figured I'd wait and see what happens for second semester. Because of Cleveland Scholarship Program, I made it through second semester. I held down a part-time job and earned a 3.85 [GPA]. I got more money and took a full load over the summer. The following fall, they took care of everything but $200." He continued his studies thanks to a John Griswold White Grant through CSP and additional CSP sources.
After graduation, Hakim was accepted at 13 universities for postgraduate work in education, including Columbia, Washington University, Brown and the University of Michigan. He opted for Michigan State University because of its No. 1 ranking and the opportunity to become involved with the Teachers for New Era Project, a grant focused on better preparing teachers to teach in more diverse settings.
U.S.A. Olympic Women's Wrestling Team member Toccara Montgomery attended East Tech High School. Although she received a full-ride scholarship, including room and board, to Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Ky., she realized that not all expenses would be covered.
"Cleveland Scholarship Program helped a lot," she says. "They helped me with books and spending money." Montgomery adds that her CSP adviser helped her apply for scholarships resulting in an additional $1,000 per year for four years.
And then there is Patricia LaNasa. While she isn't training for the Olympics, LaNasa still gets a workout as a singer, a wife and mother, the teacher of 27 piano students and a candidate for a master's degree.
In 1998, a counselor at the University of Akron referred LaNasa to Cleveland Scholarship Programs. A 1976 graduate of Kirtland High School, LaNasa had always thought about going back to college and decided that the time was now right.
As choir director and musical arranger at her church, LaNasa realized that her group was struggling with problems that she couldn't resolve, primarily because of her lack of training. With that in mind, she decided to pursue a degree in vocal performance and piano.
"Cleveland Scholarship Program gave me $1,100 in scholarships and, in addition, the Jane D. Alexander Scholarship. They were there for me," LaNasa says. "There's something about knowing that somebody out there trusted me even though I didn't know who they were. It kept me going."
LaNasa — who also mentored five students while attending the university — received a bachelor of music in vocal performance as well as a certificate in piano pedagogy. Now studying for her master's in opera, LaNasa is a graduate assistant in the UA School of Music and has sung at the University of Akron graduation ceremonies for the past three years.