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The inaugural class of Octavius Catto scholars at the Community College of Philadelphia features 79 participants. Photo: CCP
The inaugural class of Octavius Catto scholars at the Community College of Philadelphia features 79 participants. Photo: CCP

Community College of Philadelphia welcomes its first class of Octavius Catto scholars

The new scholarship offered in partnership with the city to eliminate financial barriers for first-time, full-time college students.

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Back at the end of 2020, the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) and the City of Philadelphia started a call for students to be a part of the first class of Octavius Catto scholars for the Spring of 2021.

The program is a major partnership between the school and city government that targets students in poverty in the city and provides them funds to overcome costs associated with tuition, food, transportation, and books.

At a virtual ceremony on Thursday, Jan. 21, CCP welcomed its first class of Catto scholars for its Spring semester. 

There are 79 students part of the inaugural program, and they started classes on Jan. 19. 

Dr. April Voltz, the executive director of the Octavius Catto Scholarship, said she was “very excited” about the number considering the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on schooling and employment.

She also said that a number will grow as many prospective students she has talked to expressed interest in starting in the Fall rather than the Spring. 

Three of the students starting this semester who spoke at the virtual ceremony were Chelsea Hammond, Kareem Freeman, and Jesenia Martinez.

All three found out about the program through advisors at the community college who either spoke to them in person or notified them through email.

Hammond is a native of Exton, Pennsylvania, but moved out of a troubled home and to the city at 18 after graduating from a cyber charter high school. 

At one point, she found herself homeless in Kensington and coping with earlier trauma through alcohol.

“I fought extremely hard to get sober and honestly, I had no idea that I would get even as far as I am today,” said Hammond

Now at 30 years old, Hammond lives in her own apartment and attends meetings and counseling to keep away from alcohol and cope with her trauma. However, the retail jobs she’s held down don’t provide a good enough path forward for her to be satisfied.

“I knew that I needed a college degree to be able to support myself and have a better life,” she said.

Now, as part of the inaugural class of the Catto scholarship, Hammond is studying to be a paralegal.

For Freeman, not having to worry about school payments as part of the program is what’s keeping him there. 

As a 32-year-old father, he already has a lot of bills to pay to support his family and keep a roof over his head. Before applying and being accepted to the program, Freeman was in the process of starting at CCP, but was unsure if he could afford the cost.

Now, with the support of the Catto scholarship, he plans to study English with hopes of being able to teach the language abroad one day.

Like Freeman, Martinez has a family to worry about, specifically a two-year-old child and a four-month-old baby.

Before finding the scholarship, she was in the process of looking for extra work to support her studies at CCP.

Martinez is pursuing a degree in healthcare.

Also on the call on Jan. 21 was Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who both congratulated the Catto scholars for starting a new educational journey and recognized the scholarships role in shaping the future economy of the city.

“Philadelphia is in a pivotal moment. Our vision is for it to be a dynamic city with a thriving, inclusive economy that works for all its residents,” he said.

By the end of the five-year program, the goal is to help upwards of 4,500 hundred students get degrees at CCP.

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting as brokeinphilly.org.

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