“Seeing my parents struggle with providing our family’s basic necessities has fueled my effort to break the cycle of poverty. I know that education is the only way to achieve this goal,” states recent John O’Connell High School graduate Elwood Mac Murray.
The struggles have been many. A father who dropped out in middle school and is now on disability. An immigrant mother from El Salvador taking care of her seven children, plus her extended family members who need assistance. A lack of permanent housing creating stress and instability.
Growing up with limited economic opportunity translated to Elwood having to navigate the educational system without family support.
That’s where the Mission Promise Neighborhood comes in. One of the goals of this federal initiative is to create a college-going culture at home, as a way to fill the gaps between parents wanting their child to continue on to postsecondary education, yet failing to have such conversations with students.
“We find that parents who have not gone to college themselves have neither the language to talk about this topic nor the knowledge of how to maneuver through the system. How can you explain things like choosing the best college or how to apply for financial aid if you have not done so yourself?” explains Mission Promise Neighborhood Family Success Coach Manager Amelia M. Martínez C.
Then there is the issue of paying for college, which can be daunting for anyone, let alone someone like Elwood coming from a habitually underresourced community. This need was the genesis of the Mission Promise Neighborhood Scholarship, which aims to create a level playing field so that all students have a chance for post-secondary education. There was $10,000 collected via generous donations from the community, leading to four O’Connell graduates receiving money to start college this fall.
Elwood received $1,500 so that he can attend UC Merced. His Mission Promise Neighborhood Scholarship will ensure that there is no financial issue with making his career a reality. Elwood’s studies will be focused on engineering, for he dreams of developing affordable housing as a means to creating economic opportunity for other low-income families.
On his application for the scholarship, Elwood eloquently wrote:
I knew I had two choices: to become a product of my environment or to make a difference in my community.
Elwood is a determined young man, so he has chosen the latter.
A tragic incident last year tested Elwood’s self-professed perseverance. His 14-year-old cousin – who he called his primo-hermano, or cousin-brother – was murdered. This led to anger and sadness permeating Elwood’s life, and a lack of motivation at school. Then one night Elwood had a profound dream, where he saw his cousin as an adult attending Harvard, which was his dream school. That vision compelled Elwood to become successful – for both of them, and to set an example in the community.
“I want to serve as a positive role model for my younger siblings and motivate them to also follow their dreams,” explains Elwood. ”I will never give up.”
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About Mission Promise Neighborhood
The Mission Promise Neighborhood is a citywide community partnership that was created to support kids and families living, working and attending school in the Mission District. It brings together schools, colleges, community organizations and community leaders to help kids graduate and families achieve financial stability.