Scholarships awarded to underachievers Foundation gives grants for college to 2 students as a 'second chance'

July 13, 1998|By FROM STAFF REPORTS Sun staff writers Liz Bowie, Gady A. Epstein, Edward Lee and Scott Shane contributed to this article.

With his grades bottoming out and his peers questioning his commitment to school, Terron Pinder didn't figure himself to be a prime candidate for a college scholarship.

His mother died three years ago, and he missed school frequently because of problems from a skin ailment. Even after his grade-point average at Dorchester County's North Chester High School fell to 1.5, and after friends questioned his resolve to learn, the 17-year-old from Hurlock won a scholarship.

The funds came from a foundation established by DeWayne Wickham, a Baltimore native and USA Today columnist, to give a few underachievers -- much like he had been -- a "second chance" to succeed.

His Owings Mills-based Woodholme Foundation, holding its annual celebrity fund-raiser weekend, awarded one-year college grants of about $20,000 to two students Saturday, giving them the chance to get a higher education.

Pinder said the scholarship has changed his life. He said he is worry-free as he plans to enroll at Savannah State University in Georgia.

"My life since middle school has been nothing but stressful," he said. "For my life to be free of stress for once in my life, you can't imagine how good this feels."

Scholarships, financial aid and grants aren't difficult to find for students who have excelled in high school despite poverty and disadvantage.

But the Woodholme Foundation, through school nominations, looks for the low achievers -- students whose teachers and counselors believe have unrealized potential. "We don't want to reward kids for not trying, but there are some kids out there whose lack of achievement is not due to lack of ability," Wickham said.

Woodholme pays the cost of freshman year. The $20,000 covers tuition, room, board, a $25-a-week stipend -- and a tutor, because the students often need help completing college-level work. Woodholme also pays for transportation home twice a year.

The other winner was Samuel McLorin, a 19-year-old graduate of Parkdale High School in Riverdale.

Finding a university or college that would accept Woodholme Foundation winners has been difficult, according to Wickham, because many of those institutions are concerned about maintaining high entrance standards.

Savannah State, a small, historically black university that admitted two Woodholme scholarship winners last year, gives them provisional status because they would not have qualified to attend the university without the intervention of Woodholme.

"We enjoy working with the foundation because they are forever checking on their students and committed to providing them with the kind of assistance they need," said Edna Jackson, PTC financial aide counselor at Savannah State. "It is something that is needed across the country. The two students they sent to us really became involved on our campus."

The two previous Woodholme winners will return in the fall, according to the foundation -- one on scholarships and grants he has been able to obtain because of his college academic record, with a solid 3.0 grade-point average.

Woodholme provides awards for the first year, but hopes that in subsequent years, students will find other sources of money. "We give them a chance to get up to speed and then we tell them there is no free lunch," Wickham said.

Wickham's early life is similar to the experiences of those he is trying to help. He was 8 when his father killed his mother and then killed himself. Wickham and his four siblings were split among relatives, and he grew up in poverty in a house with eight children.

As a teen-ager, he was expelled from City College for behavior problems and seemed destined to become a dropout. But a vice principal at Douglass High School saw potential in him.

"When someone looked behind the veil and saw a kid who was hurting and crying for help, she found a way to help me," he said. "She read the fine print about the traumatic experience in my life. She thought there was something else there, other than some knucklehead."

Pub Date: 7/13/98

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