Hi, my name is Alex, and I am a student [and enrolled in Connected Youth Initiative’s]
Growing up I knew that college would not be financially possible. I and my two siblings were raised by my grandpa. Although he provided us with the most stability he could, he did not have the knowledge or resources to help us further our education. I was always a good student, but I knew growing up in what would have been considered a low-income household, my opportunities with education would be limited. Our only focus was on the necessities and getting [through] my day to day.
As a senior in high school, my high school social worker introduced me to Ann Lenz. She came to my high school and talked to me about college and the LEAP program. I knew I had the academic ability to go to college, but I knew I did not have the finances to do so. We talked about LEAP and how it could help. We also talked about understanding if and when I had been a state ward, which could make me eligible for grants and scholarships for college. I knew I had not lived with my parents for some time, but I didn’t know if I was a state ward or when I had been.
She was able to verify this information and that I was eligible for LEAP and provided me this in writing so I had it for my Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Being able to understand my status allowed me to finally see that college was possible for me and helped me to start preparing for college.
Once I applied and was accepted into the LEAP program, I was matched with Jessi Mason. She made sure all of my documents were correct and made sure that my Educational Training Voucher (ETV) payment and financial aid were in place, so I had enough aid to cover my tuition and books.
Jessi and Ann gave me the opportunity to focus on my academics and not worry about my finances. What the program has done for me has definitely been beneficial financially, but also personally, as Jessi was always checking in with me to make sure I was doing OK. They continually reach out to me, helping me to work through challenges and celebrating my accomplishments. I will earn a bachelor’s degree in large part because of the contributions of LEAP and these great people.
I could have never imagined that I would be in my entering my second year in college with straight As, playing on a very fun men’s recreational soccer league, working for Nike, and preparing for a career in education. I could also have not imagined how a global pandemic would have impacted my college career. Moving to online classes has been one of the biggest challenges so far. Online classes are hard for me; I learn best in a classroom setting and find that schoolwork and communication are even harder online. Through all of this, Jessi and Ann have stuck by my side, connecting me with resources and other supports to make sure my academics do not suffer because of the pandemic.
All the while, I have chosen to continue living with my grandpa, as that was the best way to save money while attending a four-year university. Plus, I am an important role model and brother to a really awesome 7th grade brother. I believe in him the way Jessi and Ann have believed in me. I will make sure he has the same opportunities I have had.
Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential (LEAP) is a multimillion-dollar initiative to increase employment and educational opportunities for young people facing some of the greatest challenges on the path to adulthood. Launched by the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Social Innovation Fund and the Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2015, this effort is implemented in our state by Nebraska Children’s Connected Youth Initiative and other partners.