When LaTanya Danielle Sanders was five years old, she spotted a piece of land on Northside Drive that she kept her eye on during frequent commutes with her mother from Jackson to Bolton. Year after year, the land remained undeveloped, and Sanders vowed to one day build a house on it.
“Up until my senior year, no one had ever done anything with it,” recalled Sanders. “Then someone built their house on that land and I remember being so upset. If I’d had the money, I would’ve been able to get it for myself. I refuse to ever let that happen to me again.”
Now Sanders is an accounting and finance major at Jackson State University, learning how to invest in real estate and buy mortgages in Mississippi, thanks in part to a scholarship from the Rotary Club of Jackson.
“It means the world to me to get this scholarship,” said Sanders, who takes 19 hours of classes every semester, volunteers four hours weekly, and works part-time. “It makes up the difference between the money I get for school and what I need for books and everything else. It makes school manageable so I can work not because I have to, but because I want to. Working is learning for me. The Rotary Club has made this possible.”
Sue Cherney, chairperson of the club’s mentor scholarship committee, which selects the recipients, and executive director of Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth, said that Sanders was “all fired up about investing money and paying off her student loans before she even graduates” after completing an internship this summer at Price Waterhouse Cooper accounting firm in Atlanta.
“She’s so motivated,” said Cherney. “She plans to get her real estate license this year so she can buy mortgages, and I’m sure she’ll do just that.”
After watching a television program about a Louisiana businessman who provided college scholarships for students in his parish during the oil boom, Dr. Heber Simmons established the Rotary Scholarship Program in 1990. The Rotary Club of Jackson program was created after Rotarians explored and developed a new direction for the Youth Charities Fund. In the early years, the local Rotary Club dispensed 15 scholarships of $2,500 per year. Then it was increased to eight new $3,000 scholarships a year, totaling $12,000 per recipient. Since 2000, 125 metro-area students have received $1.9 million in scholarships; 23 recipients are currently in school.
“Over the years, the program has gotten more selective as the competition has increased,” said Cherney. “We’re really working on finding not only kids with financial needs but ones who have demonstrated potential leadership, are focused on staying in Mississippi, and who look like they will make a contribution to the community.”
Jackson Mayor Frank Melton instigated the requirement that scholarship recipients from the 300-plus member club were not only required to maintain a minimum grade point average of 2.5, but each one was committed to four hours a week tutoring students, preferably elementary or secondary students, or providing community service. They must attend a Mississippi college or university.
The program also features a unique touch: pairing recipients with mentors. “Not only do they tutor or mentor younger people, they also have a mentor in the business community,” explained Cherney. “They meet once a month and sometimes more often. The mentor is responsible for keeping in touch and checking their grades at the end of each semester and making sure they’re doing their community service projects. They’re available to the students for guidance with any problems that come up. In some cases, they help find summer jobs for the kids and after graduation will even help professionally.”
Cherney, who has been a mentor for seven years, said tying the scholarship relationship to a mentor “makes better use of our funds because the young person has someone to whom they are accountable and someone who will support them and make sure they’re successful.”
One of the first scholarship recipients Cherney mentored came from a disadvantaged home with no father; her mother was dying of cancer. “She went on to become a pharmacist with top grades,” said Cherney. “We were in close touch and I got to cheer her on. Mentoring is not like a patronizing relationship where one has all the answers. It’s about sharing life’s journey together.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.