Van Brooks in an inspiration who is constantly inspired. Brooks was a three-sport athlete who was paralyzed from the neck down after a football injury in 2004. He graduated from Loyola Blakefield and then from Towson University and uses his struggles and achievements to ensure that students in the Baltimore area have greater access to quality education and the resources they need to achieve their goals. Brooks is the founder and CEO of the Safe Alternative Foundation for Education (SAFE), where he awards, among other things, scholarships for high school students who graduated from SAFE’s middle school program to help provide resources for the school year.
While there are a lot of wonderful programs that help students pay for college tuition, Brooks awards scholarships for students entering high school. Understanding that students need support in vocational training and with academic expenses that are not necessarily related to tuition, SAFE awards four $1,000 scholarships to students who have participated in the program for at least two years and are about to enter high school. The scholarship can be used for tuition, but also for any school-related expenses such as prom tickets, club fees, field trips, gym uniforms and so on.
SAFE’s mission is to inform the youth about the importance of obtaining an education as well as having an alternate career plan in anticipation of life’s unpredictability. In addition to the scholarships, SAFE has mentoring and tutoring programs and is open to volunteers with any experience or hobbies that could be interesting to the students enrolled in the program. The SAFE Center, which serves middle school students from various neighborhoods in Southwest Baltimore, provides a variety of after-school, weekend and summer opportunities that aid our students in realizing and unlocking their true potential.
SAFE has identified an important reality about high school that often goes overlooked — students who are able to succeed academically are not necessarily able to participate in all a school has to offer because of financial limitations. While the student may have the grades to attend a school on scholarship or one that offers unique opportunities, that still does not make it possible for the student to engage in extracurricular activities that require cash payment.
As young professionals, we probably think sponsoring or endowing a scholarship seems like a significant financial commitment. However, what SAFE and Brooks have identified is the fact that sponsoring expenses can be just as important as making a commitment to pay for tuition. If expenses are covered, the resources of an institution are accessible to all students. Consider organizing donations for prom tickets, gym uniforms and IT expenses as a viable option for enhancing a student’s academic experience.
Brooks himself is an inspiration, but he in turn is inspired by the students he works with: “Our students are exceptional and with the proper resources and opportunities they will excel not only academically but in life.”
Maybe sponsoring expenses for high school students is a great way for you to be inspired and to inspire someone else at the same time.