Radio Sandwell African / Caribbean News

Online campaign helps homeless teen secure uni place

2013-08-14 23:34:39

James Ward

A former homeless teen is celebrating after a successful online campaign landed him a place at one of America's top universities.

James Ward, 19, who has been living rough with his mum and two siblings for five years, set up a site asking for donations to help raise the necessary funds to attend Washington D.C.'s Howard University, his dream college.

His plight picked up steam across social media, with US rapper Common among those sharing a link to Ward's website.

"It's surreal. I can't believe after everything that's happened I'm going to be leaving to attend Howard," Ward told The Huffington Post.

To date, the efforts have raised $12,000 (£7,744.02), enough to handle his first-year expenses not covered by loans or grants. The bigger goal is to raise the funds for all four years of college.

"I would've never thought that something we started just a couple of days ago would've turned out to become this massive," Ward said. "However, it makes me feel very happy because I know that although the world may seem like a harsh and cold place, there are some people out there that care and want to give to those in need."

Since the age of 14, Ward and his family have been homeless in California, at times living out of his mum's car and shelters across the state. The family-of-four finally secured a spot at the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles' Skid Row neighborhood in February 2012.

"In the past years, life has been very hectic," he told the website. "We had a lot of ups and downs, but through it all, I've always managed to keep my grades up and help my younger brother and sister do the same and keep them on the right track as well as myself."

Despite not having a stable home and attending three different high schools in four years, James graduated from San Pedro High School in June. Determined to attend college, he figured out a plan and made it happen with the help of another former homeless teen, Jessica Sutherland.

The pair met at the Union Rescue Mission, where she worked.

Ward, she said, stood out as clearly mature beyond his years. "Two kids asked me for my email address, and James had emailed me before I was even home. He really opened up with me."

The average cost of the freshman year at Howard University - for tuition, fees, and room and board - is $32,165 (£20,758.62), according to a university official. Ward obtained loans and grants to cover 70 percent of this amount. But add in books and supplies, transportation and other incidentals, and he needed to find another $12,000 to $14,000 (£9,035.31).

Ward will be the first in his family to attend college. His sister, 14, enters high school this fall and his brother is 7. Ward's mother just completed a licensed vocational nurse course with help from Harbor Interfaith Services, an outreach program, and she plans to enroll this spring to pursue a bachelor's degree in nursing.

"[I'm] following my dreams," Ward said, "but it was never about me. It was always about my younger brother and sister learning that education is what they need, because as long as you have knowledge, no one can ever take it from you."

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