With help from strangers, a man has successfully navigated the path from homeless teen to college student.
James Ward, a Los Angeles resident, launched the online campaign called “Homeless to Howard” last week to raise money to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., The Huffington Post reported. His efforts have thus far generated $12,000, enough to pay for the costs of his first year not covered by loans or grants.
“It’s surreal,” Ward told The Huffington Post. “I can’t believe after everything that’s happened I’m going to be leaving to attend Howard.”
But the fundraising isn’t stopping yet. “While James’s freshman year is now fully funded, our journey doesn’t end here,” Ward’s mentor and the campaign’s driver, Jessica Sutherland, posted on the “Homeless to Howard” Tumblr page, which contains updates on various fundraising milestones. “We need some serious reforms to higher education funding. We are working on establishing a non-profit to help other kids in need and continue our work to effect change!”
Ward, along with his mother and two younger siblings, has been homeless since the age of 14. They moved between his mom’s car, relatives’ houses, and shelters until obtaining living space last year at the Union Rescue Mission in the Skid Row Neighborhood of Los Angeles, The Huffington Post reported.
But despite the hardship, Ward managed to keep his grades up and had his mind set on attending college. Sutherland, who was also homeless as a teen and met Ward while speaking at Union Rescue Mission, moved to start “Homeless to Howard” after Ward was denied the Parent PLUS loan due to his mother’s inadequate credit history, according to The Huffington Post.
“My attitude is — like myself, I also grew up homeless — he didn’t ask to be born into this, and it’s not his credit, but he’s the one being punished for it,” Sutherland told The Huffington Post.
Howard University, a historically black institution, charges an average rate of more than $32,000 for freshman year tuition, room and board, and other fees, according to The Huffington Post. Ward had the majority of this covered through loans and grants.
The University said in an email that “credit requirement changes in the Federal Direct PLUS Loan program” have proven challenging for thousands of students at historically black schools, The Huffington Post reported. About 28,000 students were denied parent PLUS loans during the 2012-2013 school year, according to Department of Education statistics given to the United Negro College Fund, The Huffington Post article said.
But even with these hurdles, Ward, who said on the campaign page that he plans to major in physics, has remained hopeful for his future.
“My family and I were homeless for several years,” he wrote on the “Homeless to Howard” Tumblr page, “and I look forward to creating a better life for all of us.”