LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW)-- Applying to college and finding financial aid is a daunting task for may high schoolers and their families. But an area nonprofit is working to change that.
It's called La Crosse Promise and it's a two phase program, with the ultimate goal of transforming the city's economy and neighborhoods through education, by preparing students for college and providing scholarships.
Phase one of the program started a year and half ago with the creation of Future Centers in high schools serving City of La Crosse students. Anna Welch. a senior at Logan High School, says attending UW-Madison is her dream and to help her achieve that goal she went to the Future Center.
"Pretty much everyday since the beginning of the year, I come in and sit down at a computer and I'm either working on an essay or just getting all my stuff organized," Anna said.
The Future Centers at Logan, Central, Luther and Aquinas high schools are privately funded, by the non-profit organization, La Crosse Promise.
"La Crosse Promise is really about linking economic development with education," said Jerilyn Dinsmoor, the executive director of La Crosse Promise. "The idea that if we have a strong education focused community, it will also be good for business and industry and for the city as a whole."
The Future Centers are the first phase of La Crosse Promise. The idea is to get students to make post-secondary plans, whether it's college, tech school or some kind of apprenticeship.
Andrew Lam is a future Center adviser. He helps Anna and other students with applications, finding the right school, visiting campuses or navigating financial aid options and scholarships.
"I enjoy getting to know the students, help them figure out what they'd like to do," Lam said. "For me it's not just about getting them there but making sure they succeed once they get there."
Anna says Mr. Lam helped her edit her essays and meet deadlines and all that work paid off.
"I was just like shaking and I finally got the email open and it said congratulations. And that was the first moment I knew and it was great," Anna said. "And like one of the first things I did was come in and say Mr. Lam I got in!"
But funding the centers for ten years will require about $2.5 million. Right now, there is enough money to sustain them for about three years. The hope is program's success will garner more financial support. In the first year alone, Dinsmoor says the centers helped 1600 students.
"We collected that baseline data the fist year and now in the second year we're seeing the number of student contacts has doubled and the percentage of students using the future center has greatly increased. So we're seeing a lot of success and people taking advantage of the services," Dinsmoor said.
La Crosse Superintendent Randy Nelson says he sees the difference in the students who's hands he shakes on graduation day.
"They have a plan," Nelson said. "They have an approach. They know what direction they're going and they know that they're prepared to get from point A to point B. That in and of itself is a huge step forward."
And crossing the stage this year, will be Anna, a soon-to-be Badger who plans to major in Women's studies.
"I do feel prepared," Anna said. "I'm nervous, but I feel prepared."
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