NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — A local non-profit is providing scholarships to area students with the hope that one day those students will invest their gifts back into the community.
“We Believe in Your Child Too” is a Newport News-based organization that helps kids of all ethnicities across Hampton Roads, but the scholarship isn’t just making a difference in the recipients’ lives, it’s making a difference in their families’ lives too.
“With this opportunity not only will I be able to afford school and have them by my side to help with my education, but I can also have a story to share with other people,” said Jaida Lucas.
Lucas graduated from Heritage High School in Newport News in 2022.
She’s studying fashion design at Norfolk State this fall thanks to “We Believe in Your Child Too.”
“I truly believe the communities improve through education,” said co-founder Kevin Lawrence.
Kevin Lawrence and his brother Doug wanted to find a way to improve the community by investing in local kids.
Since 2017, they’ve given out more than $25,000 in scholarships to 14 different students, starting with Ayana Alston.
“It started with me saying ‘you know what? I don’t want to see this person fail, so I’m going to give her an opportunity to see if she can grow,’ and what happened was that opportunity helped me grow,” Lawrence said.
Kevin was working in admissions at Sentara College of Health Sciences when he first met Ayana.
Ayana was between schools and wasn’t sure what to do next.
She grew up in Hampton in a single-family home and graduated from Bethel High School.
That small investment in Ayana’s education changed her life.
“I was able to get so much experience that prepared me to be a better nurse and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I didn’t have the assistance from that scholarship,” Alston said.
Ayana went to Sentara College of Health Sciences and was able to get hands-on experience to further her career in health care. She then went to James Madison University to finish her nursing degree. Ayana is now working as a registered nurse at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
“There’s so many students who want to do better than maybe what they see in their family, or if they’re coming from a single-parent household like myself they want to do better to be able to provide for ourselves and our families,” Alston said. “So for someone to be able to take a chance on us and then to see the fruit of what they put in and see the results of it I think it’s just amazing.”
But the money is just the beginning. It’s the connections that have stemmed from there.
“We have students in Massachusetts now, we have a student attending Howard University, a student at Hampton University,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence says the goal is to place students with someone in their field, or with similar interests, to help students stay focused. They’re even looking to partner with local companies who may want to invest in future employees.
“We want to surround them with people who have been there done that and achieved that outcome,” said Lawrence. “It’s great to take a check from a company, but I would rather take the check and the relationship so we can grow together.”
One of those relationships was formed with a local realtor, Candice Watkins.
Watkins is now Jaida’s mentor. She believes it’s important to invest in others because someone invested in her too.
“I think if we show our youth that we care now in the future, they will, in turn, reinvest in the communities,” Watkins said. “The youth is our future and we have to make sure that we make a positive impact on them today.”
Watkins says she can’t wait to be there for Jaida as she starts classes this fall. Watkins formerly owned an art studio and donated art supplies to Jaida.
“I’m sure as the year progresses she might have questions or concerns, and I am just here for it all,” Watkins said.
Watkins said at first she didn’t feel like she was doing enough to help, but even this small investment in Jaida’s education will go so far.
“A lot of times we think we have to do it in grandiose ways,” Watkins said. “It goes directly to the student and that’s something that I am passionate about.”
“The thousand dollars is much more than a thousand dollars, it’s an opportunity to get in the process,” Lawrence said.
And the process goes full circle too. Ayana is now mentoring a new scholarship recipient from Bethel High who wants to work in medicine just like her.
“I think having someone rooting for you makes all the difference,” Alston said. “Especially in the health care field with women of color, you don’t see a lot of us so I think for someone like me to be an example to let them know it’s not going to be easy, but it’s worth it and they will be able to be an example for someone else going forward.”
Ayana says not only has this opportunity been a blessing for her, but it’s been a blessing for her mom too. She says she’s thankful Kevin and Doug believed in her and they’re believing in so many other local students too.
“This isn’t just one and done ‘here’s your scholarship have a great day,’ you can really make an impact on the recipients and their families too,” Alston said.
If you’d like to donate to help other area students, visit their website.
They also have a hair and fashion show fundraiser event coming up on August 19 in Newport News.