On Saturday, June 20, the Unstoppable Awards were held at the Marriott South Bay in Torrance. The awards are sponsored by Education Works Consulting Firm, Inc. (EWCF), under the leadership of CEO Dr. Anissa McNeil.
As part of its mission, EWCF works to assist the 27,000 foster youth in LA County, by improving their academic achievement and increase the graduation rate of foster youth. In 2014, the California Department of Education reported that there are approximately 60,000 foster youth in California. Only 50% will receive a high school diploma of which 10% will go onto college. However, an alarming 3% of foster youth will complete college. EWCF specializes in closing the gap between the court and education system to provide education services to families, guardians, caregivers, and school districts.
The Unstoppable Awards were created by Dr. Anissa McNeil, in loving memory of her grandmother, Mrs. Isabella Jones, to assist foster youth in achieving their educational goals. Dr. McNeil was a foster child who was raised by her grandmother who had limited knowledge and no experience with higher education. Grandmother Jones had not competed high school, but she raised nine children (seven biological and two grandchildren). Although shy and reserved, Grandmother Jones fostered a lioness spirit in Dr. McNeil and always said, “You can do it. Ain’t no body stopping you.” Today Dr. McNeil is an EdD in Organizational Leadership from Pepperdine University.
At the Unstoppable Awards, three scholarship awards were granted to graduating high school seniors who are in foster care and have: (1) a 2.8 – 3.2 GPA, (2) overcome significant obstacles, and (3) a can-do attitude about life and learning. The winners this year included the following scholars:
Andrea Gamboa (https://youtu.be/LaybEglkTPw) who graduated from Lawndale High School with a GPA of 3.1. She will attend San Francisco State University with an intended major in Molecular Biology. She will receive an Unstoppable Award of $2,500. Gamboa was selected because she not only overcame circumstances related to drug addiction by her parents and family, but she is a scholar. She is fluent in sign language, works at UCLA Children’s Heart Center, and “never let things tear me down. I always pick myself back up even when there is no one there to help.” Andrea is unstoppable!
Donovan Brown (https://youtu.be/Iz_udO3CFUQ) graduated from Grant Union High School with a GPA of 2.8. He will either attend Morehouse or University of the Pacific, depending on funding, with an intended major in Kinesiology. He will receive an award of $2,500. Brown was selected because of his tenacity and strong desire to do well in life in spite of being abandoned by his mother and father. Brown contacted the Foster scholars program at CSUN to obtain a scholarship application after hearing about the opportunity, provided a copy to other foster youth and counselors in Sacramento, and drove from Sacramento to interview for the scholarship. Brown is also a gifted athlete. He wants to do well in college and he is unstoppable!
Kelly Lake (https://youtu.be/jIYXE2P8ZDM) graduated from South Pasadena High School with a GPA of 2.8. She will attend Humboldt State University with an intended major in Social Work. She will receive an award of $2,500. Lake was chosen because she overcame homelessness, a life in foster care in Arizona and California, a father who is in and out of jail, a mother who is currently in jail, and has attended more than 15 schools in her academic history. Lake states that she is unstoppable because of “my past experiences and the person I am because of them.” She is unstoppable!
The three award recipients not only receive the honor of the award, and the monetary scholarship, but they also will each have an “Unstoppable Angel” who will attend the first day of college with each awardee and set them up in the dorms (TV, bedding, school supplies, and other required items) so that they do not arrive on campus without anyone. Dr. McNeil shares why this is important.
“When I went to college, I arrived in a different state and on campus without a parent to help.” She feels that if her grandmother knew what a big deal college move in is she would have come with her. “Now, I have a chance to change this experience for others!”
Kudos to you Dr. McNeil for impacting lives, and “paying it forward.”
Next year, high school seniors can obtain an application at www.edworks4u.org or contact the by Education Works Consulting Firm office at 213-634-0044. Hearty congratulations to Andrea, Donovan, and Kelly, I wish you all abundant success in college, to me you are not only “unstoppable,” but also an inspiration!