Of the many impacts COVID-19 has had on youth, academic and mental health challenges have been particularly pronounced. For young adults considering secondary education while grappling with these hardships, the data revealed this past spring was rather stark: college enrollment sank by 25%.
Maame is a 17-year-old Bronx native who has always been a stellar student, maintaining a 4.0 GPA while juggling commitments to a variety of extracurricular activities throughout high school. When finishing her junior year of high school, she had her eyes set on college but wasn’t completely sure what she wanted to study and how she would even afford it. Then the pandemic ransacked New York City, limiting her ability to explore jobs and internships or make money to pay for college. As quarantine went on, the social isolation caused Maame to become depressed.
In June 2020, Maame wanted to get involved in a program that would help her choose her path in life – and provide a healthy social outlet. With all of the COVID-19 restrictions, options were limited, but she turned to her mentors at our Hope Leadership Academy in Harlem who offered her a great solution. They introduced her to our “Just Ask Me” (JAM) Peer Education paid internship program, which at the time was operating remotely. Maame applied and was accepted to work as a health educator for teens on topics such as birth control, HIV/STI prevention, and gender identity. Through this program, Maame found her calling.
“Being able to answer my peers’ questions with confidence further motivates me to become an educator,” she said. “The JAM Peer Health Education Program has continuously reminded me of my future goals and pushes me to become a teacher.”
The program also helped Maame combat the feelings of isolation, stay focused on her goals, and maintain her wellness. “It gave me something to look forward to during my days,” she said, “even if it was on Zoom.” Maame also shared that she took advantage of Hope’s mindfulness and meditation classes.
During her senior year of high school, Maame’s hard work paid off after she was accepted to her dream school — New York University. She received a scholarship from the school, but the remaining balance was still a financial squeeze. She knew she absolutely wanted to go there but was overwhelmed by the prospect of accumulating so much debt.
Then, she heard about the Children’s Aid scholarship program.
“By receiving the Children’s Aid scholarship, I would be able to pursue my dream career,” Maame said in her application. Children’s Aid recognized her potential and knew her goal should not be a dream deferred, nor a dream denied. She won an $8,000 scholarship, which gave her the financial backing needed to pursue her higher education goals at her dream school.