"I want you to commit. Move it from the paper to the heart and make it happen."
This was the advice state Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, gave to the new participants of the Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen program, also known as REACH, at a signing ceremony.
Lillian Fealy and Cassidy O’Neal signed contracts Oct. 5 at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center promising to maintain good attendance, keep a 2.5 grade-point average, stay out of trouble and graduate from high school.
If they keep their promise, they’ll get a $10,000 scholarship toward a HOPE-eligible college in Georgia.
Fealy, an eighth grader at Snelson-Golden Middle School, is on the A-B honor roll, has won citizenship awards and aspires to become a surgeon. Fealy called herself very ambitious and plans to earn college credit in high-school to get ahead in college.
O’Neal, also an eighth grader, attends
Lewis Frasier Middle School.
O’Neal is on the honor roll, participates in cheerleading and the National Junior Honor Society. She is undecided on her career path but her main goal is to graduate college on the dean’s list.
O’Neal said she plans to follow through with the scholarship to the best of her ability.
Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee said the program was launched in 2012 by Gov. Nathan Deal and is Georgia’s first public-private needs-based mentor scholarship.
The program started in five school systems with 23 students participating. Now, Lee said, there are 41 school systems participating and 330 students have received this opportunity.
The students start in the eighth grade and are expected to meet scholarship requirements through high school graduation. Requirements include remaining crime and drug free, meeting with mentors, academic coaches and attending REACH events.
Torri Jackson, a student support specialist and REACH coordinator for Liberty County, said she has enjoyed getting to know the first group of REACH students from 2015-16.
One of those students, Enyce Roberts, who is now a freshman at Liberty County High School, shared what the program meant to her.
"This program has helped me a lot. It’s given the dream and motivation to do whatever I want to do," Roberts said. "When I had gotten called to the office and they said I was going to get it, I started to cry. This program has helped me a lot because I want to go to college really bad, but now I know I can."
Her remarks received a round of applause.
Brad Bryant, vice president of the REACH Georgia, called the ceremony a time of celebration.
Bryant said the program opens doors for students who may not have the opportunity to seek further education after high-school due to financial constraints, and allows students to reach their potential.
Williams, the guest speaker, said no one should be unable to go to school because they can’t afford it.
The Georgia Student Finance Commission provides the funds to administer REACH and local sponsors provide most of the scholarship award. Williams said the state and community together provide a minimum of $10,000 a year for college for four years.
"You want to be a teacher because you love to teach and then come out of college with $50,000 of debt on a teacher’s salary in the early years. By the time you get ready to go to college, we can do something with these numbers," Williams said to the scholars.
He then shared advice about making good decisions and character.
"It takes 20 years to make a good name and 20 minutes to mess it up. Think hard before making decisions and be able to talk to your mother and father candidly, frankly and always tell them the truth," Williams said. "No matter how much education you get, character is going to drive where you end up in this world. Character will be the driving force. Never, ever sacrifice your character."
Williams shared that he wanted to become a chef and two weeks before going off to culinary school in New York his mother dissuaded him from that career path. Years later, a friend of his was making six figures as a chef. He told the scholars "don’t let the job title fool you."
"Grab your dream and hold on to it and never stop dreaming," he said. "At the end of every day check on how much of that dream you’ve worked on. If a dream is a just dream it turns into a nightmare. If a dream is a vision that has desire tied to it, it becomes a beautiful symphony of beauty. You can do it."
The students and their parents signed the contracts. Jackson asked the audience, of community members and school personnel, to also commit to supporting the REACH scholars.
Dr. Kathy Moody, executive director of student services, presented certificates to persons who helped raise funds and supported the program.