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Many students were making the transition to college this past summer, even during a pandemic and civil unrest. During this difficult time, PLAN4SUCCESS was able to provide 23 scholarships to graduating high school seniors during this time. The organization is planning to raise money in November during their annual fundraiser to make a bigger impact in 2021. 

Funds for the scholarship are raised primarily through two major fundraisers, GIVE100 and PLAN-A-THON. GIVE100 is a campaign that asks 100 people to donate $100. PLAN-A-THON runs through Dec. 31 and supports the group’s programming and partnership initiatives. Donors often bring other donors to the cause.

Nicole Brookens, founder and executive director, started PLAN4SUCCESS after seeing the disparity of access to resources among underserved communities and those with social and financial advantages. 

Nicole Brookens

She finds the difference between student success and struggle is often found in the opportunities available to them. PLAN4SUCESS is a program that helps bridge the inequity in resources.

Now serving 150 youth each year, according to its website, the organization is “a premier resource foundation that provides practical life skills to adolescents and young adults in the areas of career development, financial literacy and college prep.” 

PLAN is an acronym that stands for Participate (to) Learn (how to take) Action (and) Network.

The scholarship program, started in 2016, offers $500 scholarships to underserved youth. It is open to students who are attending a four-year university, community college or trade school. The scholarship program has supported students throughout the Chicagoland area who represent 30 high schools and more than 50 colleges and universities. The program has given 75 scholarships to students. 

The scholarship program is in remembrance of Brookens’ aunt, Edna Lee Stewart, who owned and operated Edna’s Restaurant on the West Side of Chicago for 44 years. A trailblazer in her own right, Edna’s restaurant served many notable individuals from the Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Rights era to Barack Obama when he was a senator. 

This year, in addition to the awards already given, Brookens said many community members gave additional funds in honor of other community leaders, creating the Legacy Scholarship,  awarded to seven students.

Other programming for PLAN4SUCCESS includes the Teen Conference, a series of nine workshop modules on topics such as resume writing or how to use LinkedIn, an online professional networking site. Academic and practical components help students stay engaged to maximize their learning. The modules can be taken over the course of a student’s high school career, culminating with college preparation during their senior year. 

This summer, in response to civil unrest, PLAN4SUCESS included an additional program to have a community led discussion on the topic. The event, held over Zoom, was moderated by Jerome Reynolds, a partner from IBM, and included students, parents and other community members.

Additionally, care packages were given to students which included words of encouragement, snacks and a PLAN4SUCCESS branded item. 

“It is important we reach out to people who are not necessarily in our family as we are all trying to survive this pandemic,” Brookens said. “[The packages say] We are cheering for your success, so keep fighting.”

Don Hardy was a recipient of a care package. He graduated from Western Illinois University and was accepted into graduate school at Northern Illinois University on scholarship. This summer Hardy completed a virtual internship at Harvard University through its residential director program.

Matthew Swalek, a student at University of Illinois at Chicago, has received the scholarship multiple times, and through a matching donation from the university’s program, is able to participate in programs such as an Urban Policy internship.

“Just by providing any help, resource or access we can, you never know what the possibilities are until you reach out and try,” says Brookens. 

To learn more about PLAN4SUCCESS or to contribute, visit plan-4success.org

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