Hazel ParkJuly 5, 2012
Hazel Park Promise Zone completes match grant
By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer
HAZEL PARK — Last fall, the Hazel Park Promise Zone assumed the task of raising $100,000 before the end of 2012, to be matched dollar for dollar by a grant from the Sutar-Sutaruk-Meyer Foundation.
Now the match grant has been clinched by a $50,000 donation from The Walmart Foundation, meaning the Promise Zone has effectively secured $200,000 for direct college scholarships to graduating Hazel Park High students.
The good news was made official during a check-giving ceremony at the Hazel Park Schools Administration Building June 28. The $50,000 grant from Walmart will also help fund a college readiness program for the district, providing after-school tutoring, networking for students, college visits and more.
“We want to ensure our students are ready and prepared, and can meet the challenges of college life,” said Pegg Roberts, executive director of the Hazel Park Promise Zone Authority Board. “The majority of our students are first-generation college-bound, and the community of Hazel Park has a poverty rate of about 80 percent. We’re getting kids ready to be successful for school.”
The match grant was completed in good time, too, with a half-year to spare.
“I am so excited because we can move forward and begin looking at additional programming and scholarship dollars, and it gives us six months to challenge people to continue to look forward to this,” Roberts said. “We all have dreams of how it would be wonderful if instead of a two-year scholarship, we could eventually move into a four-year scholarship, so it gives us an opportunity to move forward in that direction.”
The Hazel Park High Class of 2012 is the first to qualify for the promise. As long as they live in the district and graduate from Hazel Park High, students are eligible for two-year college scholarships, up to $2,000 a year, for the equivalent of an associate degree from Oakland Community College.
The amount of the scholarship is determined based on the length of consecutive attendance at Hazel Park Schools: 100 percent benefit for students in the district since elementary school; 90 percent benefit since junior high; 75 percent benefit since ninth-grade; 50 percent since 10th-grade; 30 percent benefit since 11th-grade; and 20 percent benefit since 12th-grade.
Once in college, students renew the scholarship each semester and must maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA, as well as a full class load of 12 credit hours per semester.
Made law in 2009 by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the Promise Zone allows 10 economically distressed areas, Hazel Park included, to recapture one-half of the increase in the state education tax, which does not affect the district’s per pupil allocation.
The Promise Zone supplements this with private fundraising efforts. The first $50,000 consisted of door-to-door solicitations, bottle collections, spaghetti dinners, a pub crawl, a student-driven penny drive and hat days in the schools. One alumnus, who wishes to remain anonymous, gave $10,000. Other alumni chipped in, as well.
Now it’s all paying off, with 97 students in the graduating Class of 2012 qualifying for the Promise Zone scholarships.
“I believe that education is the key,” Roberts said. “It makes a difference to these students. It helps get them excited, generating a college-going community. People will move into the community and strengthen the community.”
Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-District 27, a Hazel Park Promise Zone Authority Board member, helped facilitate the Walmart connection. Representing Walmart at the ceremony was Walmart market manager Steve Satterfield.
“What sometimes happens is we don’t always see the need that’s right in our backyard,” Satterfield said. “There are many reasons why people don’t go to college, but the biggest reason is they’ve got to have the hope that they can. They’ve got to know that people believe in them. I hope this isn’t the last grant we give to Hazel Park, because I know there is a lot more work to do and a lot more kids to reach.”
One recent grad is Beth Ann Gajos. She comes from a single-parent family; her dad is in jail, while her mom works to support the family. Gajos will attend Oakland University in the fall to study psychology.
“It really does help a lot,” Gajos said. “All of the coming seniors over the next few years, they’re really going to appreciate it. It’s a great honor.”
Another grad benefitting from the Promise Zone is Kirsten Hall, who will room with her best friend Gajos at OU. Hall’s mom just recently went to college, and her dad went into the Army straight out of school. She’s funding her college education partly with her dad’s support and partly with student loans. The Promise Zone will help defray costs.
“With the Promise Zone, it means less money I have to worry about paying back,” Hall said. “Not many people know how much college actually costs. … The kids will appreciate (the scholarships), and they do appreciate it. This means so much to the seniors and all of the coming seniors.”
For more information, visit www.hazelparkpromise.com.
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