GRASP program helps students and families with college costs

Glen Allen, Va. –
Headlines abound emphasizing college costs and student debt, but where can students and their families go for help? There actually is a Virginia organization that provides students with free financial aid advising and provides financial donors an avenue for simultaneous philanthropy with tax advantages. What is this organization you may ask? It is Great Aspirations Scholarship Program (GRASP), a Virginia 501(c)(3) non-profit, charitable, education organization. GRASP is funded by school systems, foundations, businesses and individual donors. GRASP’s impact covers more than 60 public and private schools throughout Virginia, including Bath County High School, Buffalo Gap High School, Fort Defiance High School, Highland County High School, Nelson County High School, Riverheads High School, Robert E. Lee High School, Central Shenandoah Valley Governor’s School, Stuarts Draft High School, Waynesboro High School, and Wilson Memorial High School, and is distinguished by its policy of channeling more than half of its resources to individuals who have significant financial challenges.

GRASP’s mission is to ensure that every student has an equal opportunity for continuing education after high school, regardless of financial or social circumstances. GRASP’s In-school Advising Program is the heart of the organization. GRASP advisors work weekly at participating Virginia high schools, schools for students with disabilities and Boys and Girls Clubs. These part-time professionals are adept at navigating the college financial aid system and the processes required to make a post-secondary educational plan a reality. Advisors assist students and their families with the financial aid process primarily through individual, in-school meetings. They also present financial aid seminars in libraries and other public forums throughout the year. Advisors access institutional, federal, state and community resources to enable students to develop an education plan after high school. Education funds are available to many students; however, benefiting from these funds requires completing a complicated process of forms and documents within specific deadlines. Depending on the student’s circumstances, the educational plan may include attending and paying for education at a community college, technical/vocational school, or public/private four-year college or university. Some students’ plans may include a progression or combination of educational institutions. As part of its In-school Advising Program, GRASP awards scholarships to graduating seniors at the end of each academic year.

GRASP also has Library Programs and a College Success Program. The Library Programs include advisor availability for students and families who cannot meet during the In-school Advising schedule. Additionally, GRASP hosts Saturdays at the Library, at the downtown Richmond library, in the early months of the year to assist individuals in completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a requirement for seeking post-secondary, educational financial aid. Finally, GRASP keeps in touch with post-secondary students through the College Success Program and provides continuing financial aid assistance as well as opportunities for scholarships.

GRASP welcomes donations from foundations, individuals and businesses to ensure its programs and scholarships continue to help students. GRASP solicits contributions to support our daily operations, In-school Advising Program, Early Commitment Program, Library Programs, College Success Program and “last dollar” scholarships primarily for students and families of low to modest financial means, and for students with one or more disabilities as defined under the federal IDEA legislation. Donations may qualify for a 65% tax credit plus a federal and state income tax deduction.

This year, GRASP is celebrating its 29th year helping students across the Commonwealth continue their studies or training beyond high school. Just in the past four years, GRASP advisors helped 29,010 Virginia students work through the financial aid process. Over 90 percent of the students with whom GRASP advisors met last year attended post-secondary institutions ranging from technical training to some of the nation’s top universities. Survey respondents report receiving on average over $11,000 each in post-secondary financial aid. Two-thirds of those dealing with financial hardship were also the first in their families to attend post-secondary school.

The future cost of post-secondary education is unknown. GRASP, however, will endeavor to be a beacon of light for those seeking education and those seeking an avenue to help make others’ education dreams possible.

Paula Buckley, GRASP Public Relations

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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