“You’re going to make sure I go to college for free? Where do I sign up?”
That’s what Sherlean thought when she heard the pitch from Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee during her freshman year of high school. Instead of hesitation, she was excited: this is what she always wanted.
Sherlean has lived in Milwaukee most of her life. Growing up with ten siblings allowed her to see different paths in life. Maybe one avenue was to follow in her mom and one older brother’s footsteps and work at a local automation company. Maybe she’d become a doctor. One thing was certain though, and that was that she wanted to go to college.
Her parents supported this goal, but they worried about the reality of it: college is expensive.
“None of my siblings at the time were through college,” Sherlean explained. “So no one knew anything. And my mom said, ‘Well if you go, we need to take out loans. We'll do it if that's the option.’ But I didn't want that to be our option. I don't want us to have to pay and be in debt. We just have to find a way.”
One day at lunch while she was a freshman in high school, she heard from Boys & Girls Clubs that her dream could become reality. They explained how she could go to college with little or no debt through programs that they offered. Programs like Graduation Plus.
The Graduation Plus program prepares teens for their futures and aims to provide support and mentorship to help students obtain college access and continue life-long learning. It helps Milwaukee youth go to-and-through college and since its inception, has graduated close to 800 college students, many of whom are debt-free or with manageable student loans.
“Everything from life skills, life lessons, career lessons, college prep, life prep and every cohort has a different model that they're following,” explained Andre Douglas, Assistant Vice President College, Career, and Teen Services at Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee. “We've created sort of a one stop shop here with our Ready Center on the back of Graduation Plus.”
When the pandemic hit, Sherlean and other students in her cohort found themselves in a different world and learned to navigate the Grad Plus program, as well as life, in a different way. Even though her freshman year at Marquette felt dismal, she still had support.
“I met with my Grad Plus advisors and everyone was still really, really supportive,” she said. “They were now at a moment of, ‘Sherlean, what do you need? And how can we help you?’ And then of course, they help you, like Andre, they help with tutors, read all the essays, anything that I needed. They were here to make sure I had those resources.”
Now, she’s able to give other students the same support she received, as both a student and an employee of the program. As a College Coach, she mentors 15 freshmen in the say way she’s been mentored – helping students apply for scholarships, write essays, updating their resumes, and providing a safe space to talk when they’re overwhelmed.
With guidance from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, Sherlean has been able to receive scholarships that cover the cost of tuition and housing. She’s also recently been accepted into the Big 10 Summer Research Opportunity program and will study at the University of Iowa for the summer before graduating from Marquette in the spring of 2024.
“Sherlean is a great example of what self-advocacy can do,” Andre beamed. “She’s going to get all of her opportunities, and she's going to make sure that whoever is in the room knows that Sherlean is in the room.”
When you give to United Way, you're not just making a donation. You're changing a life. Sherlean, Andre, and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee remind us that to live better, we must Live United.