Scholarship money doesn't just help students attend college, it can actually save their lives, Noel Hiers told attendees at the Women of Wonder League a recent fundraising event at The Reeds at Shelter Haven in Stone Harbor.
"Funding for scholarships is suicide prevention," said Hiers, recipient of the Woman of Wonder Award at the annual event. The Egg Harbor Township resident is a counselor in the School-Based Youth Services Program at the Cape May Technical High School in Cape May Court House. She said she often sees students who feel they have no future and even want to kill themselves.
Dressed in a Wonder Woman costume, she admitted at first she did think the award was a bit silly.
"And then I thought of Wonder Woman's bracelets, and realized we do deflect bullies, and poverty, and abuse and social pressures," she said. "All of our kids today are at risk. We use our lasso of truth to get them to talk to us."
The group began after school principal Tracey Staab told Patricia Gentile, dean of the Atlantic Cape campus, that they were struggling to find the funds to allow students at the alternative high school to take classes at the college. Gentile said after considering several options, she and Maria Kellett, director of resource development, decided to raise funds themselves.
Since 2011, their fundraising has helped pay for 16 students at the Cape Educational COMPACT high school to take classes at Atlantic Cape Community College. The called upon "Women of Wonder" in Cape May County to attend an annual event around Halloween. costumes optional. This year's event raised $6,650. A private donor has also given a $75,000 endowment for at-risk students.
"This has become a Halloween tradition," said Gentile, aka Wonder Woman. "It's a silly time of year, but we have a serious mission."
Several scholarship recipients attended the event and shared their stories.
Roxanne La Plant, of Rio Grande, talked of living in a motel and walking to Atlantic Cape so she could finish her courses.
"College had seemed so out of the picture for me," she said. "When the money was cut I was sure I'd never go. Now I consider myself a superhero in training."
Cape May Special Services School Superintendent Barbara Makoski said COMPACT is for students who are bright, but struggling in their home lives or at their hometown high school.
John Ferguson said he was lost when he got to COMPACT, but the staff gave him clothing, support and a chance to attend college.
"I was homeless for awhile," he said. "If not for them I'd be on the street. I discovered there is a place for me in the world."
Staab said the scholarships represent hope for students who have had little of it in their lives.
"They don't know how bright they are," she said.
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