Our 2020 year started off with a wonderful Hope Gala in January, where we were able to exceed our 2019 performance in funds raised, attendees, sponsors, and every other metric. We were optimistic that this would be another great year… And then, the world fell apart!
In March, we recognized that the Corona Virus was going to pose an existential threat to the health and well-being of our community. We held an emergency Board meeting, and changed our charter and by-laws to allow us to redirect funds from scholarships to instead fund women who lost their incomes due to the virus. In just over a week, we were able to fund 12 women (six of whom were single mothers) to help them pay their rent, feed themselves and their families, pay for their insurance and car payments, etc.
In April, we were able to get back to scholarships, and presented Eureeka Jackson, Simoane Binns, and two other young women with GED scholarships. The scholarships cover all course work, books, testing, and some money for secondary expenses like child care and transportation. We look forward to seeing them graduate in August, and hope they will come back to us for a Continuing Ed scholarship.
In June, we met with Dr. Cshanyse Allen at the Innovative Healthcare Institute. Through job training, education and mentoring, Dr. Allen has always wanted to have a healthcare training program to provide a way for others to reinvent themselves, but most importantly learn a trade to assist them in providing for themselves. They have been hit really hard with the COVID-19 shutdown (even though they train medical professionals that are in short supply…) They are finally allowed to start training students again, but the students are poor and have been unemployed since February/March, meaning they don’t have the money to start in the next class.
Each Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) course costs just under $1,500 per student. Our board approved that that we would fund a full scholarship for each of the 6 women in this upcoming class, for a total of $9,000. Funding them not only helps the students, but will also provide 6 CNAs who will work in our local nursing homes, where they are critically short of trained CNA professionals to care for our most vulnerable population in this Corona era.
Dr Allen said, “I am overjoyed with emotion this morning. During a time of uncertainty and a medical pandemic within our country, I am appreciative of your foundation as you are reaching out and taking care of those most in need. This morning, as I listened to Keep the Faith by Faith Evans, it reminded me that if we keep working together and not lose sight of what we are doing and why we are doing it, God will continue to fight our battles and the sun will shine when we are in times of despair and darkness. I am most appreciative of your financial assistance to help 6 women and their families through educational empowerment. Your donation will change the trajectory of the lives of each family within our community. The financial donation will allow each woman the opportunity to train, become certified and employed within our community. This opportunity affords a pathway to a better life for the women and their families. The women that we work with are resilient, resourceful, smart and will do amazing things because of your act of kindness and generosity. I look forward to our continued partnership to move families from poverty to prosperity. May God continue to bless your foundation and board members.”
In a truly heartwarming gesture, we received a hand-written thank you letter from each of the six students (Shaniqua Maddox, Chria Sharp, Shaquoia Jones, Sequoia Taylor, Andrea Barnes, and Tara Sparks), telling us how life-changing the scholarships are for them, their children, and in the case of Andrea Barnes her grandchildren as well. (Update: As of August 5th, all six students have completed the CNA course, and passed their final tests. They are now awaiting their [COVID-delayed] State Certification Test. And…all six have job offers waiting for them when they pass their State tests!)
By August, our schools were starting to reopen, including Athens Technical College. We were able to provide scholarships to two more aspiring students – Diana H. and Abiodun Judith Amoke Akwe both just completed their GEDs, and will enter technical training for the fall semester.
Diana dropped out of school at 16 as a single mother, and then fell into a lifestyle of addiction, homelessness, and poverty. Finally receiving a “much needed nudge from the judge,” she completed an addiction recovery program, and then completed her GED (the first of her siblings to complete their education). She is driven by a passion to help others who face circumstances similar to hers, and sees the education she will get at Athens Tech as a stepping stone to prepare her to do that. At the GED Graduation Ceremony, when presented with the scholarship, she whispered, “I will make Ashton proud.”
Akwe, who emigrated to the US from Nigeria as an adult, said her biggest accomplishment is that she finished her GED at 53 years of age, and intends to continue her education through technical school, then on to an MBA. Her goal is to show her 16-year-old son that education is the key to a better, more successful life.
After the presentation of these two scholarships at the GED Graduation ceremony, we received three more applications from women in the class who were unaware of this opportunity. All 3 were approved, and all 3 women are continuing their education journey!
In October, we were able to make another block grant to Innovative Healthcare Institute, to fund three additional students in the upcoming Certified Nursing Assistant course.
As in 2018, our 2019 Hope Gala started our year off in a way that exceeded our wildest dreams. Because of the community’s generosity, we were able to raise more than $36,000 this year. That means were were able to double both the number of scholarships we awarded, and double the amount of each scholarship.
What made the Hope Gala especially special was that we partnered with Athens Technical College to have the students in the Interior Design school do all the planning and execution of the decor for the Hope Gala. We also had two students in the Hotel, Restaurant, and Event Planning school do an internship with us to help plan the Gala. The result was an amazing event, with the added benefit that these students go to show off their talents to the leaders in our community. We couldn’t be prouder of them!
In April, we awarded post-GED technical training scholarships to six women who enrolled in Athens Technical College.
In May, we partnered with the Rotary Club of Athens to jointly award two scholarships to two young ladies at the Athens Community Career Academy. In addition, we were able to also award them two Ashton Hope Keegan Scholarships!
In September, we awarded an additional 11 post-GED scholarships, and 4 GED scholarships. We will post pictures as soon as we get them!
In October, we will finalize our partnering with the PALS program at Women to the World (where Ashton did her volunteer teaching) as they start a new computer Learning Lab, named in honor of Ashton. This lab will enable “Ashton’s Ladies” to do on-line GED course work and practice tests, as well as learn the Microsoft Office suite of tools in preparation for administrative jobs.
Throughout the year, we also awarded several other scholarships to students in need, including a young lady at the University of North GA, and a teaching student who just completed her studies but didn’t have the funds to take her certification test.
We are also working with the Oconee County Animal Shelter to provide two scholarships to young women who want to become Road Officers for the county. This will provide a direct, tangible service to this community, as well as providing gainful employment for these two young ladies.
Distinguished Service Award:
In October, 2019, we were recognized by the Technical College Foundation Association of Georgia with their Distinguished Service Award!
The Distinguished Service Award is designed to showcase past and continued generosity, commitment and dedication to the foundations and colleges of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG). The award provides an opportunity for local foundations and colleges to express appreciation for the significant contributions made by individuals, foundations, businesses and corporations during TCFA’s 2019 fiscal year (July 2018 through June 2019).
The recipients of the TCFA Distinguished Service Award embody the ideals of philanthropy, volunteerism, and leadership in the service of Georgia’s technical colleges.
The 2018 Hope Gala set a modest goal and we ended up far exceeding it. Raising over $20,000 for the Foundation, we have been able to give back in ways we only dreamed of. We have been able to make huge impact on income, and overall quality of life for women that have, for whatever reason, not completed high school and did not even dare to dream of college. We have partnered with educational institutions in the community and are thrilled that we have been able to make an impact locally and continue the work that Ashton was so passionate about. The money we raised in 2018 enabled us to provide the following:
– In March, we granted 6 GED vouchers to women at Athens Technical College.
– In May, we granted 3 scholarships to women who recently completed their GEDs and entered technical certification training at Athens Tech. These scholarships not only covered tuition, but also provided money to overcome other impediments to their education, such as transportation and child care.
– In July, we purchased and donated 40 sets of GED textbooks and test preparation aides, as well as boxes of school supplies, to the PALS program at Women to the World. This was a critical need for the program, as the current set of books they had is outdated, and the test prep materials were used and erased over and over again.
– In August, we funded 6 scholarships for women who completed their GEDs and are entering technical certification training. In a noteworthy sign of the success of the programs, one of the women receiving this continuing education scholarship is one of the GED Voucher recipients from March – she completed the GED, and is building more momentum going forward!
– We partnered with The Classic Center and Orange Theory Fitness to host our third annual set of Angel Trees for the women in the PALS Program. Studies show that the women have a tendency to withdraw further from society during the holiday season because of the shame of being unable to provide for their children. By providing holiday gifts, we remove this impediment to the women’s continuing education, and allow them to continue to build momentum throughout the year.
– In December, we funded a portion of the Athens Tech Roll Out Rescue Program. This program ensures students are unable to afford to pay all of their registration fees at the time of registration, are not disenrolled.
September 26, 2018:
We had the privilege of presenting an additional six post-GED scholarships at Athens Technical College! These women ranged in age, background, and interests, but all had one thing in common – the drive to continue their education after completing their GEDs.
Just before we started the presentations, the Athens Technical College Board of Directors and President gave us a tremendous honor, and presented us their Donor of the Year award! Ashton would be so proud that her legacy is still making such a difference in the community!
August 11, 2018, Watermelon Party: We had a great, family-friendly watermelon party with our friends at Southern Brewing Company. Kids of all ages had a blast playing games, eating at the food trucks, a listening to the kicking band. And, of course, we had great beer! Special thanks to the Southern Brewing Company for brewing a special watermelon beer, just for this event!
The event not only generated a great opportunity for the community to come together, but it also raised enough money to fully fund another continuing education scholarship for a woman who completed her GED and will now get technical training to immediately enter the workforce. Thank you all!
August 3, 2018: GED Preparation Books and Study Guides
We presented 40 sets of GED Prep books and Study Guides to the PALS Program, where Ashton spent her free time teaching GED classes. It represented a significant increase in our community’s ability to sustain the GED training classes, as now each student got their own set of books and electronic study guides. Twenty more sets of books are on back order, and will be delivered once they come available. We can feel the momentum build, and feel Ashton smiling down as “her ladies” continue to progress!
March 23, 2018, GED Scholarship presentations!
On March 23, 2018, the Ashton Hope Keegan Foundation was able to award six GED Scholarship vouchers to students at Athens Technical College. These students represent everything Ashton stood for- they faced a challenge, and decided to overcome that challenge. They focused on success, and took the initiative to earn that success. The Foundation is so proud of them, and looks forward to seeing them cross the stage when they complete their GED!
We would like to thank Stephanie Benson, Vice President for Adult Education at Athens Technical College, and Antoine Boynton, Executive Director of Public Relations and The Athens Tech Foundation, for making this partnership a success. We look forward to making a difference in many more women’s lives with these scholarships!
Amy White is “a single mother of three, work three jobs to make ends meet, and am trying my best to get my GED to better myself for my children.” Her life goal “is to accomplish getting my LPN, and to show my children that at any age you can accomplish your dreams.”
Demetria Dowdy‘s mom always told her she should achieve greatness for herself first, then for others. That advice resonated, and she is now pursuing the GED to proved she can achieve something big in her life. She has always had a passion and talent for drawing; after her GED, she wants to get into animation and cartoons for a career.
Viviana Suarez was forced to drop out of school after a death in her family. Faced with adult responsibilities, she needed to work. However, she decided to put a priority on her education because, as she says, “…my education is so much more important than some full time job because education will always be there unlike a job.”
In late August, 2017, the Ashton Hope Keegan Foundation met its first goal, making a donation to Women to the World’s PALS program. The donation provided the funding and supplies needed to get 3 women through their GED program.
The donation was one week before the first anniversary of Ashton’s death, and represented the continuation of Ashton’s work as a tutor and mentor to the women in this program. These women were at the center of Ashton’s heart, and knowing that she continued to make a difference in their lives would have made her happy.