Parenting a child while in high school makes college seem out of reach.
But Beth Harrington got a boost when she needed it most — a scholarship that opened doors to higher education and a better life for her son, Nathan.
The de Grange Scholarship paid for two years at Durham Technical Community College and allowed her to transfer to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with zero debt. “Going to school at Carolina had never been on my horizon,” Harrington said.
In 2016, Triangle Community Foundation celebrated the 30th anniversary of the de Grange Scholarship Fund.
“Families are always so surprised when they hear that someone has donated the money for them,” said Caitlin Georgas, Orange County Adolescent Parenting Program social worker. “At a lot of the graduations and award ceremonies that I’ve been to, (the de Grange) is the biggest scholarship that anyone in the school gets.”
Founded in 1986 by an anonymous donor, the scholarship provides recipients with the chance to establish a future for themselves and their child through education beyond high school.
Students are eligible for four semesters of support – $1,400 per semester for a total of $5,600 per student, said Scholarships & Donor Services Officer Sarah Battersby.
“The scholarship is designed to pay for a degree with in-state tuition – it will pay for an associate’s degree,” Georgas said.
The scholarship is available to pregnant and parenting students in Orange County high schools and has three requirements: recipients must participate in the Adolescent Parenting Program, graduate from high school, and enroll in college within one year of graduation.
Beth Harrington moved to Orange County from Canada as a child. In high school, she dreamed of college, but she knew her options for financial aid would be slim as a Canadian citizen. And when she got pregnant at age 15, she thought her dream of college wouldn’t be realized. Enter the de Grange scholarship.
“The (de Grange) scholarship was the only one I was ever able to utilize, and it made a huge difference,” Harrington said. The scholarship requirements were not a burden and helped form a support system that helped her reach college, she said. Harrington enrolled in Durham Tech after graduating high school. She lived at home and raised her son. Then, she transferred to UNC.
“Having a scholarship that let me go to Carolina as a junior completely debt free – that’s an amazing opportunity for students to take advantage of,” Harrington said. Harrington graduated in 2011. Today, she works as a social worker in Alamance County, helping teen parents in that county’s Adolescent Parenting Program.
“Everything has sort of come full circle as I’m a social worker now, and every year I go back to the Orange County Adolescent Parenting Program hub and I speak to their kids about the scholarship,” Harrington said.
Georgas sees the scholarship as instrumental for high school parents seeking higher education to provide for their children.
“Having the scholarship as motivation to graduate from high school and then further their education – that makes a big difference in the statistical and research-based outcomes for them and their children,” said Georgas. “They are more likely to have a job where they can support themselves and their child, and more likely to be able to live on their own, so it makes a big impact – especially in the lives of the children.”
But young parents can’t always see their way out their situations. The de Grange Scholarship provides a path.
“It’s hard to be a parent of a young child, especially when you are young yourself,” Georgas said. “You might be getting a lot of grief from different sources, but having that carrot dangling in front of you, almost $6,000, can be very motivating.”
If the money is a motivator, the parenting program gives them tools. Pregnant or parenting adolescents in the program are provided access to health care, teen parent support group meetings and information on how to improve parenting skills.
Ninety percent of participants graduate high school without a subsequent pregnancy. “In the program, we work with guys and girls who are 19 years-old or younger when they come into the program, get pregnant or have a baby or come back to school,” Georgas said. “And we work with them until high school graduation.”
The program serves as a homebase for de Grange recipients, and pushes them to finish high school and pursue higher education.
“All de Grange Scholarship recipients come through our program,” Georgas said. “They meet with us in home visits, and come to group when they can.”
Triangle Community Foundation has supported the Adolescent Parenting Program for more than 30 years. In 1986, an anonymous donor who had been involved in the program wanted to find a way to help teen parents get an education.
The donor and the foundation worked together to create the de Grange Scholarship. The donor thought that a targeted scholarship program would provide a boost right when the recipients needed it most.
“(The donor’s) hope for the future of the scholarship is to see more teen fathers get involved in and graduate from the program and take advantage of the scholarship,” Battersby said.
Both parents of one child can receive the scholarship, so long as both are active parents and achieve the goals of the Adolescent Parenting Program.