By Katie V. Jones
Since it opened its doors in 1990, First Generation College Bound’s vision and mission has been to encourage students from low-income and first-generation families to attend college and to help families find ways to make college affordable, according to Joseph Fisher, the nonprofit’s founder and CEO.
Fisher was able to attend college because of an athletic scholarship. When he learned he also qualified for need-based financial support, he returned his athletic scholarship so it could be awarded to another athlete in need.
“All kids have hopes and dreams,” Fisher said. “It’s hard. College is a business, and bills got to be paid. Many low income families think college is not possible. We turn that around.”
Through its College Access program, First Generation coaches work with seven high schools — Laurel , Central, DuVal, Fairmont Heights, High Point, Parkdale and Potomac — to help students in 10th grade and above by providing encouragement and support with their studies.
“By senior year, we are very busy,” Fisher said. “Taking the SAT, filling out FAFSA, college applications. It’s a lot.”
First Generation coaches also help students look for colleges with offerings that match their interests and that they can afford, so they can graduate with little to no debt.
To date, the nonprofit has helped 2,639 students enter college.
“He [Fisher] has put in place a legacy he should be proud of,” said Lisa Jones, 47, a proud graduate of the First Generation program at Laurel High School who went on to get a master’s degree in public health. Jones is grateful for all the nonprofit did for her.
“My parents were immigrants, Jamaican, who were more familiar with British education,” Jones said. “In high school, going to college was a big deal. All the steps required; it was nice to have the additional support. They even helped my sister.”
First Generation coaches keep in touch with students, offering support and encouragement, even after they’ve entered college, Fisher said.
“The care factor is very powerful in what we do,” he noted. “People need to know you care. We are there to help you on this journey.”
Fisher also believes it is important to kindle a love for education at an early age. In 1992, he started a homework club in Kimberly Gardens, a low-income housing complex in Laurel. Through the program, certified teachers provide help with homework to students in first through 12th grades. All of the sessions are free.
“In Homework Club, we plant the seed,” Fisher said. “We enforce the importance of studying habits and behavior. Practice that for success.”
Victoria Oke first participated in the club as a fourth grader at Oakland Elementary School. She is now a rising fifth grader.
“Most of it was online,” Oke said. “We would learn about different things, and they would help us with homework.”
The club met in person for special activities, Oke said, including for a pizza party and another time to make T-shirts.
“If I had the opportunity, I would definitely do it again,” she said.
Shalom Oyeyemi, 10, has participated in the club for several years. Besides getting help with her homework, she has enjoyed studying other topics, like outer space.
“It has helped me during school understand my topics more,” she said. “I’ve told my friends about it.”
Homework Club celebrated its 30th anniversary in May with a party for the more than 30 students currently enrolled in the club. Fisher is now raising money to sustain his nonprofit into the future.
“I took my time and built it slow,” he said. “I did it right.”