A $500 scholarship organized by two South Siders aims to ease students’ financial stresses as they adjust to the new experience of higher education.

The inaugural Endurance Scholarship is available to all students of color living in the Chicago area continuing their education at a college, university, vocational school or certification program.

Non-traditional students — including those above age 25 who are beginning their undergraduate studies — and Dreamers are eligible, organizer Sierra Jackson said. There are no restrictions on how the funds must be used.

“We want to tag as many people as we can, and allow them free rein and the empowerment to navigate their educational experiences in the ways they see fit,” Jackson said.

The application period runs through Dec. 1. Two students will receive the award in January. You can apply for the scholarship here.

The Endurance Scholarship was founded by Jackson, a South Shore native, and Little Village native Jennifer Ortega. They graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont in 2018. Jackson is an independent filmmaker, while Ortega works as a youth mentor.

The scholarship is funded through Open Collective, a crowdfunding platform that doubles as a fiscal agent for small organizations such as Jackson and Ortega’s. The pair has raised more than $3,000 to date.

Though the scholarship has far exceeded its initial $1,000 goal, the organizers will limit the number of awardees to two for this first round. They’re discussing how many scholarships to offer for the next round as they’ve received “a lot more donations than we expected,” Jackson said.

A $1,000 donation came from the Community Foundation Boulder County, with the rest raised “through friends and families, coworkers and really tapping into the community,” Jackson said. “That is really important for Jenn and I.”

South Shore residents’ sense of community and the wealth of publicly available resources in the neighborhood taught Jackson “there’s no limits, really, of what I can do,” she said.

“We have the lake, we have the cultural center, we have lots of Black-owned businesses,” Jackson said. “Being able to witness that as a young person afforded me a level of understanding of who I am and what I can produce.”

There’s a mutual benefit to diversity on campuses, Jackson said — students of color bring their lived experiences to their institutions and gain new experiences themselves.

But students of color sometimes struggle to fit in to mainstream campus culture, she said. The scholarship is intended to provide relief from financial concerns as students navigate their new experiences and the related stresses.

“Some people just don’t have the money to obtain the same school experiences as their counterparts can,” Jackson said. “Some people have to work multiple jobs on campus … you have your social life, and you also have to attend your classes. It has to pile up.”

Jackson hopes the scholarship gives its awardees “the understanding that there [are people who] are supportive and want them to succeed,” she said. “Empowerment and certainty translates to how they function on campus.”

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