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Scholarships Show Cases of Triumph Amid New Challenges for Teens

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Wednesday, May 12, 2021   

MINNEAPOLIS -- Children's well-being advocates say issues such as housing instability are prominent today as they work with minors in difficult situations.

In Minnesota, those challenges are seen through an annual scholarship program, and new honorees provide organizers hope.

Nearly 30 years in, the Children's Defense Fund's "Beat the Odds" program awards $5,000 college scholarships to Minnesota teens overcoming significant barriers to finishing high school.

Quentin Wolf, a Minneapolis South High School student and one of this year's scholarship recipients, missed his sophomore year and saw his family evicted. He said it was overwhelming at times.

"Sometimes I would say, 'What's the point?'" Wolf explained. "Just wishing I had a normal life, but then, I would realize that working this hard and doing what I do [would] make me who I am, eventually."

He emphasized his academic career rebounded through positive messages he retained from his parents, while taking control of his learning environment.

Program officials said they see more examples of Wolf's situation among recent applicants, as well as students dealing with a mental-health illness. They contended it shows why policymakers need to enhance support for struggling families, allowing kids to have some level of stability as they shape their future.

In the past, the Children's Defense Fund noted applicants were commonly overcoming the death of a parent or abuse.

Nicole Hernandez, youth development director for the Fund, said those situations still exist, but added other challenges have emerged as students prepare for adulthood.

"This is typically not how a high schooler should be experiencing life," Hernandez stated.

She added those who succeed don't see their progress as they work through the challenges, but end up having an inspirational story to tell.

The latest Minnesota Student Survey found fewer students reporting healthy coping strategies than in previous years. The Wilder Foundation said roughly 6,000 Minnesota kids younger than 17 have lacked stable housing.

Meanwhile, this year's Beat The Odds honorees will be highlighted during an online celebration Thursday evening.

Disclosure: Children's Defense Fund- Minnesota Chapter contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Children's Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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