Housing authority residents earn college scholarships

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They come from neighborhoods like the Hill District, Homewood and East Liberty. They will go to places like Penn State University, Robert Morris and Temple.

"Just because you're from low-income housing, doesn't mean you have to stay there," said Cecelia Johnson, a legal secretary with the Allegheny County Public Defender's office and a single mother who lives in the Hill District.

Her daughter, an 18-year-old recent graduate of University Prep, won't.

In the fall, Aonna Johnson will start her freshman year at Robert Morris. She plans to continue on to law school.

This morning, Ms. Johnson -- along with 19 other Pittsburgh students who live in Section 8 or low-income public housing -- received some help to achieve their college plans. They were recipients of $1,500 scholarships from Clean Slate E3, the non-profit affiliate of the city's Housing Authority. Most of them also received an additional $750 from non-profit agency NEED. The scholarships can be renewed for four years if they re-apply each year and maintain a good grade point average.

The Clean Slate recipients were chosen from 31 applicants based on academic performance and character.

"Every little bit helps," said Ms. Johnson, who was at the Housing Authority office Downtown this morning to watch her daughter receive her scholarship. Aonna Johnson will also receive a $10,000 a year scholarship through the Pittsburgh Promise organization as well as financial aid from Robert Morris.

Reggie Robinson, who graduated from Brashear High School in 2007 and put himself through Clarion University on loans and a football scholarship, knows how every dollar helps. He was Downtown today to see his brother, Shawn Terrell, 17, of the Hill District, receive a scholarship that will help him attend Temple University in Philadelphia.

Mr. Robinson said he was proud his brother, who wants to major in environmental studies, is leaving behind a neighborhood that he has seen overrun by drugs and violence.

"It's big," he said. "Just to be able to overcome that, and see my little brother heading in the right direction, is rewarding to me."

Neither her parents nor her three older siblings went to college, but Erika Williamson, 18, of East Liberty, never doubted she would.

"Oh yes, I always had that in mind," she said. "Because the way to succeed is education."

In the fall, she will attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania for pre-med studies. The scholarship she received today -- as well as her Pittsburgh Promise scholarship -- lifted the financial burden of pursuing that education, she said.

education - neigh_city

This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To subscribe: http://press.post-gazette.com/ Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. First Published July 26, 2012 7:45 PM


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