More than 30 students participated in this season’s College LIFE program, most the first in their families to attend college. Arnold Sojourner, who runs the program, understands the unique set of challenges that these students face. Like their peers, these students struggle with identity. But, they are also navigating through unfamiliar territory, without the benefit of drawing from the past experience of family members. College LIFE stemmed from another program –Work LIFE– that was designed for teens to cultivate skills through combined job and classroom training. The next step involved equipping teens for success in the transition to adulthood. As Sojourner notes, the stakes are high for those without further education. “The options available to them if they don’t attend college are very few,” says Sojourner. “Though many have dreams, what was missing was the ability to effectively plan and follow through to make their dreams into a reality. One of my main focuses is encouraging them to remain invested in their dreams. Many of them are facing challenges that no one has equipped them to handle. We want to support them in critical areas of learning time management, navigating financial aid, and advocating for themselves on their campuses. But above all, we want them to never lose sight of the fact that God created them for a specific purpose and loves them more than anyone else,” he states.
These students are all resilient, vibrant, motivated, and inspiring young people that have blessed the Sunshine staff immensely. Hear more about 3 of them and please keep all the students uplifted in prayer.
Ayrianna grew up just blocks away from Sunshine’s building in Woodlawn. She attended the local elementary school, Sexton, and started coming to Sunshine’s youth programs when she was young. Ayrianna has been a consistent face and presence through all of Sunshine’s programming. As a child, she was reserved and contemplative and is now growing into a confident and independent young woman with a strong faith and conviction.
Ayrianna graduated from Walter Payton High School in 2015 and chose to enroll in North Park University because she wanted a Christian college experience and was able to get some the best financial aid package. She is double majoring in Sociology and Criminal Justice and plans to eventually get her Masters Degree. Ayrianna credits Sunshine as being one of her biggest support systems while being in college. When she is not in school, she lives with Sunshine staff Pete and Nikki Blodgett.
“Working with Sojo and the College Life program has really helped me navigate financial aid, time management, and staying motivated. It’s a struggle and I’m the first in my family to attend college, so managing all of it while also having to work two jobs to afford school is a struggle,” Ayrianna shares. Ayrianna shows extreme resilience as she faces each obstacle in her way and continues to move forward towards her goals.
Jasmine grew up in the nearby Auburn Gresham neighborhood and attended Walter Payton High School with Ayrianna. Ayrianna brought Jasmine to the Young Life Program in High School and Jasmine soon became involved in many of Sunshine’s programs. Jasmine worked during the summers with the children’s summer program, Summer Blast and participated in College Life after she graduated high school.
Jasmine is a vibrant, artistic, and bright young woman. She connects easily with people and loves children. Her biggest passion is theatre and she chose to attend Carthage University because it is has an excellent theatre department, is within driving distance of Chicago, and offered her financial aid. “If I wasn’t in college, I don’t know that I would be able to learn and experience theatre in this capacity and that would be the saddest thing to me because it brings me so much joy.”
Jasmine is the first in her family to attend college and credits her mother as being her biggest support system. She also values the support and motivation she receives from College Life. “It really keeps me motivated when I receive check-ins from Sunshine. Knowing people care and are supporting me gets me through the challenges. College Life has also prepared me to manage my time and prioritize tasks so I don’t get overwhelmed.” Jasmine continues to show motivation and excitement and is very involved in many activities on Carthage’s campus.
Malachi grew up in the Woodlawn neighborhood and became involved in the Sunshine programs in high school when he joined the intramural basketball team. Malachi has also been involved in the Work Life summer program at Sunshine, a program that provides job opportunities and skills, as well as the College Life program. He graduated from Hyde Park High School and attends Vincennes University. Malachi is a quiet and reserved young man, but very thoughtful, a deep thinker, and responsible. As the first generation in his family to attend college, he is studying Psychology in hopes to become a marriage therapist. “The options available to young black men from my community are very limited. I know if I wasn’t able to go to college and finish, the opportunities for me aren’t great.” Malachi credits the College Life program as helping prepare him for the challenges of navigating life in college. He also credits his mother as being a big support system for him. Malachi is working to maintain a positive mindset and manage all the pressures of college well. He checks in regularly with College Life and can trouble-shoot any challenges he faces. “College Life really prepares me to look ahead and create long-term and short-term goals so it’s manageable.”
Sojourner checks in individually with each of the students as well as group messages. He plans events for support when they are back in Chicago on breaks and has visited several of them at their college campuses this fall. “Not only does the process of preparing to enter, selecting the right academic institution, planning classes, learning the process of study, and learning the value of celebration for the accomplishments they achieve (small or great) an important learning process, but they also experience the benefit it brings to those around them.” This kind of love and care is all rooted in the vision God gave him to support these students and he is passionate to ensure at the end of the day they remember the love that Sunshine showed them.