Twenty-five years ago, a group of African American women in Cincinnati came together to begin Advocates for Youth Education.
“There were three ringleaders who decided, ‘You know what, ladies? We can do this,’ so they just invented AYE and got their friends to join them,” says Kathy Merchant, who serves as president and CEO of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation
and who is also an AYE member.
Like the other 39 AYE members, Merchant’s role is completely voluntary, and it involves donating money out of her own pocket each year to help fund scholarships for minority students who excel in academics and community service.
Through her work with GCF, Merchant says she studies how to eliminate or reduce racial disparities in a community.
“It’s one of the things we’ve studied hardest,” Merchant says. “Making scholarship money available is absolutely one of the ways, so it’s a full circle type of experience for me.”
This year, AYE's group of 40 women was able to donate $50,000 dollars to assist 17 students.
“Even after you’ve pieced together absolutely everything that exists, from government loans and the myriad of checkerboard things available to students, there’s still a gap,” Merchant says. “Data shows that the gap on average is about $4,000 if you’re just talking about the cost of public universities. These grants don’t quite get that high, but they go a long distance toward that make-or-break last dollar between what it takes to go to school and actually being able to do it.”
Merchant sees evidence of the program's value on the faces of parents at the annual awards dinner.
“It’s hard not to go there and cry,” Merchant says. “A lot of these kids are from single-parent houses, and their parents go to the dinner and are choked up because of how happy they are that someone would want to help their child.”
• Contribute to a larger scale scholarship fund, such as the Cincinnati Scholarship Foundation.
• Connect with an organization like the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative
to find a student to mentor.
• Serve as a volunteer tutor at a nearby school.
By Brittany York
Brittany York is a professor of English composition at the University of Cincinnati and a teacher at the Regional Institute of Torah and Secular Studies. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia.