Members seek continued funding for college bound program
Implore county council to recognize program’s merits
The Prince George’s County Council held a public hearing April 12 at the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro for the purpose of approving and adopting Council Resolution 16-2016 for the Department of Housing and Community Development’s Fiscal Year 2017 An- nual Action Plan (AAP).
CR-16-2016 is a resolution introduced late last month concerning DHCD’s AAP, a comprehensive strategy that describes actions, activities and programs that will take place during FY 2017 to address priority needs and specific objectives identified in the FY 2016-2020 consolidated plan adopted in 2015. The consolidated plan is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development as a prerequisite for consideration of the funding applications plan for federal entitlements including the Community Development Block Grant, Emergency Solutions Grants and HOME Investment Partnerships Programs funds, according to an agenda item summary sheet from the council’s office.
Most of the testimonies at the hearing came from students and representatives from First Generation College Bound Inc., urging the council to support continued funding for the program.
“We had testimonies from about 20 or 30 individuals,” said Council Chairman Derrick L. Davis (D). “The one that leaps to mind first is the First Generation College Bound [FGCB program] and how we support their efforts to ensure that low-income and folks who might not have had an opportunity to go to college understand how to utilize the system, make it to college and find ways to pay for college.”
Founded by Joseph Fisher in 1990, FGCB is a grassroots, private nonprofit based in Prince George’s committed to investing in the development, growth, and wellness of children as it relates to higher education. FGCB exists to empower youth from low- to moderate-income families to achieve social and economic success by providing guidance, encouragement and support in obtaining a college degree. The organization functions to address the need for outside of school and college access supports to increase the number of low-income students who graduate from high school prepared for college, enrolled in quality institutions and matriculate in four years, according to the FGCB website.
“This was a sacrifice I made 26 years ago and I have great passion,” Fisher said. “There are young men and women, like myself, growing up with parents doing as best they could. They didn’t realize that they had resources for their kids to go to college. … Many people are unaware of that just because [of] what the Pell Grant is able to do, especially [for] low-income students like myself graduating high school. This was something that I figured out … I want you to know that this has to continue.”
Last year, Fisher said FGCB was awarded $50,000 and is being recommended for $30,000 this year. However, he said there is “a big need for the work that we do.”
“When our funds are cut, it’s going to hurt us,” Fisher said. “I ask that you please continue to support us, help us to grow to meet the needs of low-income families in Prince George’s County.”
FGCB Program Manager Raymond Harrod spoke about how the program — which is supported by the Community Development Block Grant — has been beneficial for so many students throughout the county.
“You requested for us to do some work in your districts and we have delivered those things in addition to us working with seniors at Central, Fairmont Heights, Laurel, Parkdale and Potomac High schools. This year, we implemented a small partnership with Northwestern High School as requested,” Harrod said. “We continue to support the entire Prince George’s County school system by also providing services at the Academy of Health and Sciences at Prince George’s Community College, Bladensburg High School and Charles Herbert Flowers High School.”
In addition to its college access services, FGCB has a community homework club that works with about 40 students living in Kimberly Gardens, a low income residential housing complex located in Laurel. The program is staffed by certified teachers who provide on-site homework assistance and other academic support, Harrod said.
The club is separated by grade level — Homework Club I is designed for first through sixth graders, and Homework Club II is for seventh through 12th graders. The students are exposed to positive role models from their community, as well as participate in age-appropriate leadership development, supplemental education, cultural activities, exposure to post-secondary education and case management services. The three objectives of the program includes increasing behaviors so that students master the rigors of meeting educational standards and progress to post-secondary education; supporting the county school system’s priority to reduce absenteeism and ensure that students achieve high academic standards in the core curriculum areas and will graduate from high school; and thirdly, decrease the large gaps that persist for at-risk students’ access and success in higher education, according to FGCB’s website.
“The students enjoy it and we literally get to see students start at first grade, move their way up to 12th grade, enter college and graduate from college as well. We have several students who are currently benefitting from First Generation College Bounds services, students who are in our college access program, students who we’ve been working with since middle school as well as one college student and a principal at Forestville High School,” Harrod said.
For Forestville High School senior Tyree Williams, 17, FGCB helped him overcome a difficult obstacle during the last three years. Williams began to lose focus in school after losing his mother in 2014, as well as his father and stepdad a short time later. He said their untimely deaths impacted his life in a negative way, especially academically.
As much as he wanted to do well in school, Williams said he could “no longer focus on what was important.”
“I began to fear who would be next to permanently leave my life. It was difficult to sleep at night and remain positive of my future,” Williams said. “I know that every single one of them want the best for me and [FGCB] is what made me get my drive back and continue to get on the road for my senior year.”
Nathaniel Laney, Forestville’s principal, spoke on behalf of Williams. He said Williams and his older siblings have remained tight as a family and encouraged each other during those tragic moments.
“I really give Tyree the credit. Sometimes we don’t know the position of the family and things that happen [and] how they have different impacts,” Laney said. “Tyree has continued to draw as much positive energy as he can around the school, from the staff, from his friends, from the football team. … As he went through adversity, he remained focused. I just think he needs an opportunity, a grant, a chance, to live up to his dreams. … All I can do is ask that you support him as he moves forward in life.”
For other students like Adilene Marquez who have overcome adversity after losing her father and being sexually assaulted, she said FGCB gave her a second chance at life.
“I had depression and anxiety so it kind of threw me off in school and really got me off track,” Marquez said. “I started to doubt myself and thought that college wasn’t an option for me. But later, I was introduced to First Generation College Bound and they really helped me and guided me through the whole college process in applying for grants. I never really knew that grants existed or anything so they really opened up the opportunity to go to college for me. And now I plan on attending Towson for the fall. I thank them so much for that opportunity.”