Notebooks with images of the American Sign Language alphabet inspired Katelyn Mandel and her friends at Anne Fox Elementary School to memorize signs and practice communicating with one another in the intriguing new language. It also began a dream for the 2014 Schaumburg High School graduate to one day become an interpreter for the deaf.
Now a junior at Columbia College in Chicago majoring in American Sign Language, Katelyn credits that school notebook, and
Excel Beyond 211 Dollars for Scholars®
Student Support Funds, with helping her toward that long-nurtured goal.
"EB211 has highly skilled mentors and they are invaluable," says Donna Epton, retired College and Career Counselor at Schaumburg High School and founding board member of EB211. "But even with good mentoring, we still encounter significant financial limitations and challenges."
Also referred to as "Just in Time Grants," Student Support Funds were established two years ago to help EB211 mentees with unexpected academic expenses. Requests for grants were immediate because these low-income, high-performing students' financial needs were great.
"We started this fund in January 2015, and between December and August that year we had six requests from mentees in the EB211 Class of 2014. We were able to honor all, at least in part," explains Kathy Carroll, EB211 secretary and retired counselor and special education teacher at Palatine High School. "We've helped fund everything from online books (with an average cost of $100), to $89 for an access code to online exams, to $50 for a criminal background check (a requirement for education majors)."
Because these first-generation college students are on strict budgets and do not have excess funds for unbudgeted expenses, we currently have provided 40 students with these grants.
Student Support Funds are limited to $250 a semester per student, and each expense must be verified. Board members want funds to be as equally distributed as possible, so students are asked to research the most inexpensive way to purchase or rent materials first, which helps students learn how to budget and become resourceful.
It appears that EB211 students are learning those lessons quickly. When Katelyn couldn't afford one textbook, she read it in the library at night. But libraries eventually close for the day, so Katelyn requested funds to purchase that elusive textbook. Now a junior, Katelyn has learned to navigate the system expertly and borrows books through Illinois' inter-university loan system.
"I'm able to attend Columbia because I'm on scholarship and receive help from EB211, but I'm also learning some nifty ways to access materials without spending money," says Katelyn, who works about 30 hours at Panda Express on campus while carrying 15 credits.
"Using the inter-university book loan system is something I can do to save money. It's not something that makes my life easier, but it is helping me get an education. Knowing I might be able to receive help from EB211's Student Support Fund is tremendously helpful."
Katelyn is not alone. One nursing student was required by her professor to purchase a $169 textbook, an expense so intimidating she contemplated dropping her food plan to pay for it. A grant from the Student Support funds provided emergency funding so this highly successful student could purchase the book...and eat.
Another nursing student, now in her third year at Harper College, hadn't budgeted for equipment required of nursing students. EB211's Student Support Funds provided $100 for a uniform, stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, and gait belt.
"Some of these kids would never get through school without these grants," says Donna Epton. "When things get tough financially, we want to be able to provide some support. This fund says to our students, 'You're not alone.'"