Columbia eatery aids HCC students

They've done well in college after high school struggles

March 07, 2010|By John-John Williams IV | john-john.williams@baltsun.com

A Columbia restaurant will be donating all of its earnings Monday night to a Howard Community College program that provides financial and academic assistance to students who have struggled in high school but have demonstrated a desire and promise to do better in college.

This is the 11th year that Hunan Manor restaurant has provided assistance to students through this event, which typically draws close to 500 people. An average of $26,000 is raised each year, with the money going into an endowment. The interest from the endowment is used for scholarships that help pay for books and tuition for students in the Silas Craft Collegiate Program.

"It's extremely significant," said Pam Cornell, director of the program. "They put up all of the food, drinks and staff. It's very, very generous."

Named after a Howard County civil rights leader and educator, the program accepts students who show potential for higher education despite lower grade-point averages and other struggles in high school. Once accepted into the program, students take classes with other members. They also receive mentoring and tutoring and participate in cultural trips. Their progress is tracked, and they attend weekly seminars focused on professional development.

"We close the gap between potential and performance," Cornell said.

Cornell, who has worked at Howard Community College for 32 years, has been with the program since its inception 11 years ago. About 250 students have matriculated through the program, and graduates have gone on to receive degrees from Towson, Bowie State, Stevenson and Morgan State universities. One student is working to complete a master's degree in marketing at the Johns Hopkins University, according to Cornell.

"The potential is there," Cornell said. "They just haven't tapped into that."

Teona Coleman, 20, a sophomore entrepreneurship major at Howard Community College, said she is extremely grateful for both the Silas Craft Collegiate Program and Hunan Manor's financial assistance.

"Without the scholarship program, I wouldn't be able to be in school," Coleman said. "I really enjoy being in the program. It has been a blessing in my life. I've received a good education."

Coleman, who had a 1.7 grade-point average student in high school, has a grade-point average of 3.4 at HCC. After she graduates from HCC, she wants to attend Towson University and major in business.

"I really enjoy it, and I am delighted to be in the program," said Coleman, a Clarksville resident who graduated from Laurel High School. "It's like a family for me. I really appreciate our program leaders. Without them, I probably wouldn't be where I am today."

Michelle Burgess, 20, a sophomore majoring in human services, has a 2.7 grade-point average at HCC, up from her 2.3 grade-point average at Glenelg High School.

"They help me stay organized," Burgess said. "If it wasn't for the program I probably wouldn't be in school right now. It's helped me to buy my books and supplies that I have needed."

Burgess, who plans to attend Morgan State and pursue a degree in social work after she graduates from HCC, said she appreciates the financial support from Hunan Manor.

'They help me to stay in school," she said. "I can't afford to stay in school. They help me personally and everybody else in the program."

Mekdela Sekadu, 21, a sophomore majoring in elementary education, said that receiving financial assistance from the program has allowed her to focus solely on her classwork. She said that without the program, she would have to seek employment.

Sekadu, who is dyslexic, said she needs extra time to complete assignments - time that she wouldn't have if she had a job in addition to attending college.

"It feels really good to have a support system like that," said Sekadu, a graduate of Wilde Lake High School who has a 3.6 grade-point average now and had a 1.5 grade-point average before joining the program.

"People do care," Sekadu said, referring to the owners of Hunan Manor. "There is someone willing to open their pockets. All I have to do is worry about getting the good grades. For me, not having to worry about my tuition is a burden off my shoulder."

Roger Caplan, spokesman for Hunan Manor owners Mike Chao, Ken Chao and Tak Wong, said they want to raise as much money as possible for the college.

"They are just a very generous organization that literally wanted to do something to give back to the community," Caplan said.

The restaurant loses about $6,500 for the night without its dine-in and carry-out service, according to Caplan.

"With the inclement weather, every day is critical for them," Caplan said. "But they never blinked. ... This is a thank-you for the community."

The event will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and is open to the public. Tickets cost $40 a person for the all-you-can-eat buffet.

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