Access College Foundation pleads for help following pandemic problems


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — For more than 30 years, the Access College Foundation has sent 73,000 students to college. The program was founded by philanthropists the late Frank Batten and the late Joshua Darden.

While the founders of the foundation and Gov. Gerald Baliles –who was featured at the unveiling of the program — have since died, they would likely be proud of Access scholar Imani McFarland, who graduated from ODU last year with a degree in health science.

This year, McFarland is part of the surgical unit at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital where she helps patients with COVID-19.

From left to right: Frank Batten, Joshua Darden and Gov. Gerald Baliles in 1988

With protection, she has close contact with infected patients, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I love what I do. I love seeing smiles on the patients’ faces, I love being on the front lines,” said Imani who is studying for a master’s degree in public health.

Access President and CEO Bonnie Sutton said the program, originally for Norfolk students, is now in place across the region in high schools and universities.

Because of the pandemic, the foundation’s 32 advisors use teleconference platforms such as Zoom to help guide students and their parents through the maze of college applications and the financing process.

Many Access scholars have financial needs and some are first-generation college prospects in their families.

Imani McFarland with Access advisors Rachal Weaver and Mariah Benfield

“Seventy-seven percent of the students we are serving are either low-income, the first person in their family to go to college, or an underrepresented minority. We are there to knock down, go over, through and around — whatever we have to do — to all of those obstacles,” said Sutton, who has been part of Access from its inception.

Layoffs are not yet on the table, but the Access Last Dollar Scholarship Fund is facing a six-figure deficit after two major fundraisers were canceled because of the pandemic.

“We are estimating a $300,000 to $350,000 loss of revenue that we will need this year,” said Sutton.

And this could mean fewer talented people like Imani will get scholarships because of the pandemic. Sutton urges the community to get involved to help teens and their families.

Archive photo: Imani McFarland, Andy Fox of WAVY-TV and Bonnie Sutton of Access College Foundation

If you would like to join us in supporting these students and supporting these scholarships, visit the Access College Foundation website.

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