Above: Edgewood Village Scholars pose for a group picture at the year-end banquet.
Austin Brown didn't realize he faced significant financial challenges as a kid until it came time to think about college. Although he grew up in subsidized housing in East Lansing's Towar Gardens neighborhood, “low-income” wasn't part of his vocabulary. Home was simply home.
Then, entering his freshman year at East Lansing High School, Brown began to see things differently. Other kids talked about college. He knew he wanted to go. But when he talked to his parents, they told him they couldn't provide the financial resources, let alone the insights, to help him attain his goal.
"They did say they would support my decision either way," says Brown. "And they encouraged me to do a program in my neighborhood that could help."
That program, Brown says, is the Edgewood Village Scholars Program—a college preparatory program for students who live in Edgewood Village, the 135-unit multi-family, low-income, affordable rental property in the East Lansing School District.
While Brown joined the program as a high school freshman, others are admitted to the program as early as the end of fifth grade. Students must reside in Edgewood Village and undergo a rigorous application process. The program has capacity for 35 scholars—up to five for each of the seven grades. Incoming scholars are asked to commit to attend the program through their senior year in high school.
The program goal is to get all scholars accepted into a four-year college or university. Brown achieved that. In May 2017, he finished his freshman year at Michigan State University, where he studies business.
"I definitely don't know where I would be without the program helping me along," says Brown. "Over time, the program got me ready for college, and taught me how to reach out to others for help with academics and with finding resources. I learned to not be afraid to ask for help."
Brown was among the six graduating seniors in the Edgewood Village Scholars inaugural class of 2016. Among them, the East Lansing students received acceptance letters from fourteen colleges and universities, and went on to attend Michigan State University, University of Michigan, and Lansing Community College. This year, the program will graduate one scholar, with a full class of five juniors moving into senior status in the 2017-2018 academic year.
Edgewood Village Scholars Director Jonathan Rosewood has a simple message for participating students: "If you stay in the program and you finish, you're going to school.”
To date, the program boasts a 100 percent placement rate, with all students striving for a 3.4 GPA or higher by the time they graduate high school. Students are supported in their academic goals through resources that include tutoring, mentoring, volunteer and community service activities, standardized test prep and practice, and a time and place to meet for study and fellowship. Scholars are paired with volunteer program mentors, some from MSU or The People's Church.
Edgewood Village Scholars attend workshops or speaker sessions focused on topics like computer and financial literacy, diversity training and leadership. Summertime activities include camp and enrichment programs. A new internship fellowship program supported in part through a gift from Greater Lansing 100 Women Who Care offers 10th-12th grade students the chance to gain work experience in particular areas.
"We want to give our scholars the opportunity to experience work life to see what it might be like to work in an area they're interested in," says Rosewood. "That way, they can find out before college if they like it or not, and if they will enjoy studying that particular field."
Rosewood adds that the program also provides scholars with a peak college-prep experience: the college visit. Last year, program staff and volunteers accompanied scholars on college tours to several state and private universities in Michigan and Illinois, as well as some historically black colleges. Afterward, program mentors helped students navigate the application, financial aid, and scholarship processes at their prospective schools.
"Also, we don't look at our services as ending when students leave," says Donna Kaplowitz, Edgewood Village Scholars Committee Chair. "They are alumni and we want to support them through their careers in college."
A guiding principal
Launched in 2008, the Scholars Program is the vision of Edgewood Village founder and director John Duley—a legendary civil rights activist and Presbyterian pastor. Duley was also instrumental in founding Edgewood Village nearly 40 years ago. At 96 years old, he remains steadfast in his belief that everyone be provided with the best resources possible to help them succeed.
"When I was in college, I had a Quaker roommate who was a pacifist," Duley says. "I volunteered to help build dormitories for conscientious objectors during World War II. That had a strong influence on the direction of my life."
Above: Presenter Quintin Shine joins Edgewood Village Scholars Founder John Duley and Edgewood Board Vice President Andrea Magyar in a special moment at the program's year-end banquet.
Duley came to East Lansing in 1962, and worked as the MSU campus minister and long-time faculty member until 1982. His MSU legacy includes developing and leading the Student Tutorial Education Project (STEP) during the height of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement—a program that engaged 100 MSU student and faculty volunteers in preparing students at an all-black school in Mississippi for academic success. Duley also ran a cross-cultural learning program at MSU that helped pioneer the national service-learning movement.
Duley's commitment to fair housing, equal opportunity, and education was reflected in his work during the late '70s through the mid-'90s—including the development of Edgewood Village. His work as a community organizer continues to affect the lives of the poor, low-income and homeless through his founding of the Greater Lansing Housing Coalition in 1989.
"I was troubled by the homeless problem," he says. "And by poor people not being able to own property and having to work two to three jobs, and still not being able to pay rent."
Edgewood Village and the Edgewood Village Scholars Program are hallmarks of Duley's contributions to East Lansing and its residents. He says he's proud of the direction the program has taken, and credits it to the program leaders, volunteers, The People's Church, and business and community organizations that have stepped up to help the next generation succeed.
"To get the kids in is one thing. To keep them in is another," he says. "We all have a commitment to keep them from getting discouraged."
The Edgewood Village Scholar's Program is funded through private donations and grants. New donors are welcome. Volunteers are essential. For more information on how you can support student programs or provide an internship fellowship, visit www.edgewoodvillage.net or contact Jonathan Rosewood at email@example.com.