Elijah Daniel: Energy and Opportunity

Elijah Daniel

College wasn’t on Elijah Daniel’s personal radar screen in 2018.

He certainly did not expect not only his collegiate future, but the entire trajectory of his life, to change, as well. But that is exactly what happened. DRDFS would help Elijah grow as an individual and as a student, helping him develop and refine the tools that would enable him to make the most of his natural charisma by becoming a skilled communicator and a college-ready student.

“Three years ago? I was not remotely ready. Today I’m a very different person—and DRDFS has a lot to do with that.”

It’s a sign of just how much DRDFS has made an impact on Elijah that he has trouble deciding on his favorite part of the program. Two things he circles back to, however, are the sophisticated SAT preparation assistance and etiquette and communications training: both elements of the DRDFS program that he sees as vital and practical skills for an aspiring college student.

“Knowing how to speak to and engage with not just your peers, but with professionals and people in college and beyond is so important. There are programs to help you with that in college, but DRDFS gave me an invaluable head start. The practical skills I learned and developed through DRDFS are already helping me build and maintain long-lasting relationships.”

His DRDFS experiences sparked a passion for communication that continues with Elijah today. A self-described quiet kid who never used to talk, Elijah is a buoyant and compelling communicator who knows how to connect with a listener and engage an audience. His enthusiasm is obvious, and the clarity of his answers does justice to the depth of his keen insights.

Clarity is a consistent theme for Elijah, who was able to tell almost immediately on a DRDFS-sponsored tour of Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing that it was where he wanted to go to college.

“I’m big on energy. If I get a good feeling and the energy is right, I’m all in. MSU was our first college tour. I remember just feeling so happy. It truly felt like I was home. My friends would joke with me about it and my response was always the same: I’m going here. I made a vow to myself that the next time I came back to MSU it would be for an orientation as a new student. And then I went to work.”

Sure enough, Elijah applied for early admission and was accepted to MSU.Elijah Daniel with MSU Shirt

“That wasn’t the only college I got into, but it was the only one for me. It felt like it was meant to be.”

He not only applied early, he enrolled early, with a scholarship that allowed him to start taking summer classes—and he remains ahead of schedule, slated to graduate from MSU a semester early.

When he had a chance to apply to be a DRDFS intern, Elijah was similarly decisive in seizing the opportunity.

“I think about one of my heroes and fellow Spartans, Magic Johnson. Magic obviously started off as a basketball player, then moved to the front office and became a business owner. As an alumnus, I will always be a part of the DRDFS program. And my experience there was so positive that I was actively looking for ways to stay involved. So, when the internship program presented itself, I jumped at the chance to apply.”

That internship gave Elijah the chance to expand and refine his communication skills, to work in a professional environment and to connect with people of different backgrounds and perspectives. It gave him new tools and new opportunities to challenge himself and broaden his personal and professional toolkit in ways that continue to open doors for him.

And now he wants to do the same for others.

“When you get into any program, or any school, the first thing I tell young people is how important it is to know what you want. No one can tell you what you want or figure it out for you. Once you take that critical first step on your own, there are people and programs that can help you go from there and get you started walking the path to achieve your goals.”

Elijah says he is committed to educating other kids like him who might want this opportunity—or who might not even know it exists. He encourages students to believe in themselves and to align themselves with a program—and people—that believes in them. Elijah knows firsthand how a little belief and support can have a life-altering impact.

“This program and the people around it have had such a profound influence on me. DRDFS hasn’t just changed my outlook—it’s changed my life.”

Marketea Abbott: Giving back and paying it forward

Marketea Abbott

Marketea Abbott wants to give back.

As one of seven adopted siblings in a family of ten children, she is keenly aware of how fortunate and blessed she has been, benefitting not only from the care and attention of a loving and supportive family, but also from the structure and guidance she received as a participant in the Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars (DRDFS) Next Level Scholars Program.

In her words: “DRDFS has had a profound and positive influence on me personally, and it’s so rewarding to have an opportunity to share that with others and help them have the same positive experience.”

Today, as a DRDFS post-secondary transition coach, Marketea is able to do just that. Since joining the team in 2020, Marketea works to engage with high school students to help prepare them for the next phase of their educational path, whether that is attending a college or university, enlisting in the military or a joining a trade school or apprentice program. Marketea provides outreach, coaching, and guidance based on each student’s unique post-secondary plans. She works daily with her students in a mentorship role that starts at the beginning of their senior year and continues through the end of the first year of their post-secondary journey—and sometimes even beyond.

She coordinates a wide range of senior-focused programming and experiences—from helping students navigate the complexities of financial aid and scholarship applications to mapping out additional career options—and continues to support students through the first year of their post-secondary path by making sure they are doing well, helping them resolve any issues, and working with them to clarify and pursue their long-term goals.

She cites fostering ongoing connections as the most rewarding aspect of her role at DRDFS.

“Building those relationships is the best part of my job. I get to be there with these impressive young people, for years in some cases, and it’s so wonderful and rewarding to see them overcome obstacles, explore and fulfill their potential, and grow and flourish over time.

Those relationships are sustained through multiple touchpoints: emails, check-in phone calls, coffee meetups and campus visits, and pop-up celebrations to recognize everything from small successes to noteworthy milestones.

Because she knows firsthand the uncertainty and information gap that so many students face, her personal knowledge and experience make her a relatable and extremely effective resource.

“My advisor always did a great job in conversations with me of asking me questions and getting me thinking. She made sure I was approaching situations with the right mindset, that I understood both the opportunities and obligations that come with being a college student, and, ultimately, that I was equipped with the tools I needed to learn and grow and advocate for myself. I’m so thrilled to be able to play that same kind of role in the lives of my students.”

One of the most important personal and professional priorities for Marketea is finding a community. That goal is part of her own DRDFS origin story. One of the things that first inspired her to apply for the Next Level Scholars program was the discovery that a favorite student teacher in her middle school English class, Christa Funk, was now DRDFS’s Executive Director.

“It helped me feel good about applying to the program. It not only made me feel comfortable, but also inspired. It was so impactful to talk and interact with Christa and see her be so clearly invested in my own success.”

It’s a big reason why Marketea is so focused today on not just getting her students on campus, but making sure they feel valued and that they find their own community once they are there—both inside and outside the classroom. To that end, she encourages all students to be ready and willing to go out of their comfort zone.

“This program can do so many amazing things for all of our students, but being willing to be uncomfortable and to challenge yourself gives you the chance to not only get so much more out of the program—but also out of yourself.”

She knows firsthand the value of that community because it’s still paying dividends in her own professional journey. Marketea has long had an interest in social work. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work from Hope College in Holland, Michigan. As she starts to work on her master’s degree in an accelerated one-year program, DRDFS has been flexible and supportive in making that possible while she continues to work full-time.

“Their dedication to me as a program alum, an employee, and as a person has been truly wonderful. It’s something I know I’m going to lean on in a year

that will certainly be full of challenges. And it’s something I know I will continue to pay forward in my own work with DRDFS Next Level Scholars students.”

Next Level Scholar, Kelvin Hasanaj featured in Fox 2 Graduation Story

As he prepared for his high school graduation, Next Level Scholar, Kelvin Hasanaj, spoke with Fox 2 News reporter, Ingrid Kelley, about the challenges he faced during his journey of moving to the United States in the 10th grade, learning English and now graduating high school and continuing on to college.

Courtney Carrol, his Adviser, remarked on how proud she was of him. “He’s grown so much,” she said. “Just the difference in when he started to now, is huge. And I do think Dollars for Scholars and the relationships that he built has a lot to do with that.”

As Christa Funk, DRDFS Executive Director, described how DRDFS works to inspire students and prepare them for success after high school, Clintondale Principal, Meloney Cargill, commented, “We’ve seen the benefit for all of our students and hopefully one day the program can expand to include more of our students.”

Click here to see the full story. DRDFS is extremely proud of Kelvin’s success and will continue to support him on his educational journey. Congratulations, Kelvin!

Letter from the Executive Director – Spring 2022

Friends,

Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars has so much to celebrate this spring!

In March, we saw many of you at the 9th Annual Celebration Luncheon. Governor Whitmer joined us and recognized DRDFS’s efforts to help build a stronger community focused on education. We are so grateful for all the support we received, making this our most successful luncheon to date, raising over $845,000!

This spring, we were also proud to announce the addition of our 15th partner high school, Redford Union. They will be joining over 400 Next Scholar students this fall with the addition of the Class of 2025. We are excited to continue expanding our program to break down barriers for even more students.

In April, we hosted our first in-person event welcoming more than 100 students to the Next Level Scholars program. The Class of 2024 joined us on Eastern Michigan University’s campus for Project Runway, a day which included leadership training, a campus tour, a DRDFS alumni panel, a career Q&A, and more! Our sophomores went home feeling inspired about their journey ahead to postsecondary education.

On May 4th, we celebrated the Class of 2022 at Suited for Success, our College Decision Day event. As each senior walked to the podium and announced their plans for the future, the room was filled with applause and cheers from their family and friends. We are so excited for each of our students as they begin post-secondary education, and are grateful to continue our support through one-on-one alumni coaching.

Finally, we celebrate you—our supporters, our donors, and our partners. This spring, Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars will have awarded over 1,700 students more than $3 million in scholarships since 1990. It is your support that makes these moments and these scholarships possible. Thank you!

Warm regards,Christa Funk, Executive Director of Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars

Christa Funk
Executive Director

Spotlight on Madison High School

Madison High School (MHS) has been a partner school of Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars since 2015. It is one of our smaller partner high schools with enrollment of about 300 students. As a school of choice, over 40% of the population are students from communities outside of Madison Heights.

In spite of their small size, MHS offers many clubs and sports teams that are popular with students. They also benefit from many additional programs offered at the school.  The General Motors (GM) Internship Program is one such program where students work on projects around the school with GM’s support.

Like so many schools, Madison struggled during COVID and experienced student and staff turnover. Cheyenne Serrato, Madison’s Next Level Scholars Program Adviser, stated that getting back to in-person learning has been instrumental in rebuilding student involvement and school spirit. The students and staff are also excited about a recent bond that passed which will result in some needed building repairs and updates happening over the summer.

“The teachers and staff at Madison are dedicated and committed to the school and the students,” Cheyenne Serrato said. “They are here to make a difference for these kids. Many Madison students want to continue their education after high school and we are committed to helping them achieve their goal.”

Since MHS began in the Next Level Scholars Program, their students have received instruction and support, and have been awarded $144,000 in scholarships from Dollars for Scholars. This year, Madison senior Ahmad Naeem, was named a Kuzak Scholarship recipient. This competitive scholarship provides $50,000 over four years to a student who wants to study at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Patricia Perry, Madison’s new principal, stated, “Things are rebuilding and renewing at Madison and we are excited to be a part of that process. Dollars for Scholars offers a great opportunity for our students. I love the program.”

 

Suited for Success Describes Our DRDFS Class of 2022

On May 4th, the Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars Class of 2022 gathered at Laurel Manor for Suited for Success, where the seniors announced their postsecondary plans.

The evening began with a panel of three Next Level Scholars alumni who shared their paths to college through to their current careers, giving students a glimpse of what their futures could be. Afterward, the students joined with family and friends for some refreshments before gathering to celebrate the big announcements.

The festivities began with Gail Tubbs, a retired University of Michigan Senior Admissions Counselor, who offered inspiring words to the graduates, encouraging them to recognize their talents and “G.O.A.T.-ness” (Greatest of All Time). The Dollars for Scholars Advisers were then honored for their hard work and dedication. Next, student speaker Josh Arzola thanked the Dollars for Scholars staff and commended his fellow students for owning their chosen paths.

Finally, it was time for the seniors to take the spotlight. Family and friends applauded as each student stood at the podium and announced what they would be doing after high school. As each student made their declaration, their peers hoisted posters, waved pompons, and blew horns. While supporting each student’s decision, the schools were also demonstrating their school spirit for the Scholar Spirit Award. In the end, Melvindale prevailed and emerged as the winner.

It was a wonderful evening celebrating the rewards of hard work and commitment. All of us here at Dollars for Scholars are so proud of our resilient seniors. Congratulations to the Class of 2022!

Click here to see a video highlight of the event!

9th Annual Celebration Luncheon Highlights

For the first time since 2019, over 600 supporters and donors gathered at the University of Detroit Mercy to celebrate the Class of 2022 at the 9th Annual Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars (DRDFS) Celebration Luncheon. Emcee Paul W. Smith began the celebration by welcoming and thanking everyone for their support of Dollars for Scholars. He was echoed by William C. Young, President of DRDFS, who acknowledged, “We would not be where we are today without our donors and community supporters. Thank you for believing and investing in the futures of our deserving students.”

After Jacqueline M. Baker, who coached the students on leadership and etiquette, introduced the Class of 2022, student speaker Katelyn Saffo took the podium. She shared that she will be a first generation college student when she attends Wayne State University in the fall. Kaitlyn spoke of the support she received from Dollars for Scholars and how grateful she was to everyone who encouraged her journey. Kaitlyn stated, “Dollars for Scholars has changed my life. I can honestly say that it was the best high school decision that I have made. Thanks to Dollars for Scholars, my path is set and I’m on my way to reach success.”

Executive Director Christa Funk provided an update of how DRDFS safely returned to in-person programming and continued to support Next Level Scholar students and alumni. The Alumni Emergency Fund, implemented in 2020, has continued to financially assist alumni, allowing them to stay in college. In addition, due to the success of the post-secondary transition coaching model, a second coach was added for the Class of 2022.

Lastly, Governor Gretchen Whitmer talked about Michigan’s “Sixty by Thirty” goal; to have 60% of Michigan’s adult population have a post-secondary certificate or degree by 2030. She spoke of the importance of DRDFS’s impact, and addressed the students saying, “The training you have received through Dollars for Scholars has set you up for success and you are going to write your story.” She acknowledged the students’ resilience and hard work, and encouraged them by saying, “I promise you, you already possess everything you need to chase the things that you want. Today more than ever, I feel confident that the state of Michigan’s future is bright. I believe — we all believe in you.

Paul W. Smith closed the event by acknowledging all who made the Celebration Luncheon possible, especially the Doctorate Sponsors, Barton Malow, PR Ziegler, Inc. Life Insurance, Ambassador Ronald Weiser, Wells Fargo and The Young Family Foundation.

Mark your calendars for next year, March 8, 2023, when we will be commemorating 10 years of celebrating together!

Click here to see highlights of Gov. Whitmer’s speech.

Click here to learn more about Gov. Whitmer’s “Sixty by Thirty” Goal.

Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars Coaching First-Generation College Students

Post-secondary Coach, Marketea Abbott and Next Level Scholar, Lina Karteet, were featured by WXYZ Detroit in a story highlighting the challenges of first-generation students and how Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars is helping them. Freshmen juggling financial aid, campus life, class schedules and professors, can find it challenging and sometimes need someone to help them figure things out, or just be a shoulder to lean on.

“If a student has had someone in their family go off to college before, that pathway is kind of forged,” said Dollars for Scholars Executive Director Christa Funk. “But if you’re the first in your family to go, there’s a lot of questions out there,” she continued.

Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars follows students through their first year of post-secondary learning; whether that be at a two or four-year college or a trade school. “I didn’t know how to navigate college. I was three hours away from home,” Marketea said. Now, she is coaching Lina and others navigate their first year of college.

Click here to see WXYZ’s full story and hear more about Marketea and Lina.

Next Level Scholars Fall Recap

Eastern Michigan University Event Recap

On Wednesday, September 29, juniors in the Next Level Scholars program visited Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan for our first in-person student event since March 2020! Students joined DRDFS staff in the auditorium to reconnect, play an icebreaker game, and hear a presentation from EMU Admissions. Students also enjoyed a campus walking tour where they explored academic buildings, dorms, and more. Athena from Mason said “The tour at EMU was really fun and enjoyable. EMU is definitely on my college list now and I hope I get in when I apply during senior year!”

 

 

Apply at Walsh College

On Tuesday, October 26, seniors in the Next Level Scholars program visited Walsh College in Troy, Michigan for a College Fair, FAFSA session, Scholarships & Alumni workshop, and more! Students had a chance to meet with admissions representatives from nearly 20 post-secondary institutions for a chance to learn more about their admissions requirements, ask questions and in some cases receive direct on-site admission! Sherry, a senior from Clintondale said, “The College Fair Session was my favorite because it allowed me to talk to representatives and gave me the opportunity to get the direction and answers I needed before applying”. Walsh College also hosted a session to inform students on their programs, financial aid, and also provided a campus tour. It was a very successful and informative day!

 

Oakland University Campus Visit

On Thursday, November 4, juniors in the Next Level Scholars program visited Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan for a campus tour, admissions presentation, and lunch in the dining hall. Students had the opportunity to hear from OU Admissions and they completed the Build Your Dream College activity along with taking an extensive tour of campus. The day concluded in OU’s newest dining hall—Hillcrest Hall. Braylon from Mason said, “Oakland University is a very welcoming school; I could see myself on campus.” Students enjoyed the dining hall experience and continued their conversations about the campus during lunch.

 

Sophomore Welcome at CMA

On Wednesday, December 8, DRDFS visited our newest partner high school—Communication & Media Arts, for an orientation and welcome to the program. DRDFS Staff, CMA advisers, and sophomores played an icebreaker game, ate pizza, discussed NLS program policies/expectations, and had a chance to get to learn more about our newest group of students. Students shared their intention or goal for the year with the Next Level Scholars program—many of them used words like “success” and “growth” for what they hope to gain from participating in the program.

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