World Relief partners in new scholarship for Quad Cities immigrants and refugees

Local News

The Quad Cities immigrant and refugee community has been growing by leaps and bounds, and a new scholarship administered by the Quad Cities Community Foundation aims to help local immigrant and refugee students bridge the gap to higher education by removing one of the key barriers standing in the way—financial support.

World Relief director Laura Fontaine and 22-year-old Afghan immigrant Omidullah Barikzay in the World Relief offices in Moline Tuesday, Sept. 21 (photo by Jonathan Turner)

Local educators Julie Eisenband and Chris Strunk noticed a problem when it came to the representation of immigrant and refugee students in their classrooms. While these students were a strong presence in Eisenband’s courses at United Township High School in East Moline, one of the state’s most diverse high schools, they were few and far between in Strunk’s at Augustana College in Rock Island. The two teachers’ new scholarship fund aims to serve the needs of students at both schools.

Both educators hope the fund will be an opportunity for refugee and immigrant students to bridge the gap between high school and college.

“I have taught so many first and second generation immigrant students who are brilliant, brave people, but who face massive barriers to going to college,” said Eisenband, “Our hope is that this scholarship will provide one less thing these students have to worry about.”

World Relief Quad Cities will play a key role in encouraging new Americans in the QC area to take advantage of the new scholarship opportunity.

“It made sense to partner with World Relief because it plays such a vital role providing services and advocating for immigrant and refugee families in our community,” said Strunk.

Refugee and immigrant students aren’t the only ones who benefit from the scholarship. Staff and other students alike are rewarded by a more diverse learning experience.

“I know how other students and professors benefit from having first and second generation immigrant students in our classes, just as we benefit from our location in a city like Rock Island that has welcomed so many newcomers in recent decades,” Strunk added.

“This opportunity will open doors,” said Laura Fontaine, director of Moline-based World Relief Quad Cities, a partner in the new scholarship. “Financing an education is difficult for many students, but especially for new Americans. This kind of support for these students is critical.”

Laura Fontaine is director of World Relief Quad Cities.

The scholarship offers students up to $4,000 each year for up to six years. Applicants must demonstrate financial need as well as merit through involvement in community, school, work, or personal activities.

While the scholarship is only open to immigrants, refugees, or the children of at least one immigrant or refugee, students of any citizenship or documentation status are eligible. Not limited to those planning to study at four-year colleges, it’s also open to those planning to earn a degree or certification at any accredited community college, college or university, or trade school.

According to Fontaine, the scholarship’s broad qualifying criteria will help make it accessible to the greatest number of immigrant and refugee students, many of whom are nontraditional.

“Some refugees who arrive here are already in their late teens and have never had a formal education, so they’re older when they graduate,” she said. “Others may have had to leave college for financial reasons, or they’ve been in the workforce and are looking to continue their studies now. Having the scholarship open to students of all ages, all areas of study, and all types of schools will make a big difference.”

For Kathleen Badejo, grantmaking specialist at the Community Foundation, making options available to the widest range of students is central to the scholarship program at large.

“Our scholarships are for everyone,” she said. “Some people assume they can only apply if they’re a graduating high school senior, but we have so many opportunities that are open to anybody pursuing a higher education.”

Kathleen Badejo is a grantmaking specialist at the Quad Cities Community Foundation.

Badejo added that like the Quad Cities Scholarship for Immigrants and Refugees Scholarship, many of the Community Foundation’s scholarships are available for students at community colleges and four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade, graduate, and other specialty schools.

The Community Foundation offers nearly 80 scholarships totaling more than $500,000 now available to local students, thanks to the generosity of donors to the foundation. The Quad Cities Scholarship for Immigrants and Refugees will be awarded for the first time next spring.

Applications for 2022 scholarships are open now through Feb. 15, 2022, with recipients announced in May. Students are encouraged to apply early and can expect to fill out one common application that helps to determine which scholarships they are eligible for. The application is available at www.QCCommunityFoundation.org/scholarships.

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