Elis help with College Goal Sunday

Six members of the Yale women’s basketball team volunteered for College Goal Sunday this weekend.
Six members of the Yale women’s basketball team volunteered for College Goal Sunday this weekend. Photo by Pooja Salhotra.

Yale student-athletes gave back to the Elm City this weekend, as six women’s basketball players helped college-bound seniors and their parents fill out applications for federal financial aid and the New Haven Promise Scholarship.

The event, held at Gateway Community College on Sunday, was part of College Goal Sunday, a national program which brings together volunteers and financial aid professionals to help students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a form required for all federal financial aid applicants to universities and colleges. The program started in Indiana in 1989 and has since spread across the nation to 37 different states, as well as the District of Columbia, through the support of the Lumina Foundation for Education — an organization which funds post-secondary education opportunities. New Haven Promise has participated in the event as a local sponsor in the past and this year decided to co-sponsor the event with Gateway Community College — which has held the annual session on its campus for the past eight years.

After hearing about the event from New Haven Promise Executive Director Patricia Melton, center Zenab Keita ’14 and five of her teammates on the Yale women’s basketball team decided to volunteer in order to help students overcome financial barriers to college.

“The FAFSA really helped some of us a lot, so I think it’s important that we reach out to help other students,” Keita said. “I think it’s important as our role as athletes at Yale to get out in New Haven and serve.”

The program began at 1:30 p.m. with introductions from both Melton, whom Keita first met two years ago during a teaching fellowship program in Indiana, and NHPS Director of College and Career Pathways Dolores Garcia-Blocker. Garcia-Blocker explained to the approximately 80 high school seniors and parents in attendance that some federal scholarships and grants are doled out on a first-come, first-serve basis, even though the federal application deadline for the 2014-2015 school year is not until June 2015. If families do not fill out the application early, she said, students who are eligible for 100 percent federal aid may only receive student loans instead of direct scholarships or grant money.

Following introductions, the students began to fill out their online FAFSA applications with the guidance of volunteers from Promise and other local education non-profits. New Haven residents were directed to a separate room to first fill out the New Haven Promise Scholarship with the help of Keita and her five teammates.

Keita explained the Promise application process and eligibility requirements and then directed the students to the website where they could start to fill out an application. The volunteers did not guide the students through the process step-by-step, but only offered assistance when a parent or student raised their hand to ask a question — such as how to enter their tax information on FAFSA or how to proceed to the next step on the Promise application.

“We don’t stand over their shoulder or tell them exactly what to write in each box,” said Gateway’s Director of Financial Aid Raymond Zeek. “These kids are seniors now, but eventually they will be filling out the form on their own, so we want to make sure that we are teaching them to become self-sufficient.”

Melton emphasized that even though most students do eventually fill out the FAFSA, families do not necessarily realize the urgency in filling out the application early, and this might lead them to miss out on the scholarships and grants.

Several parents interviewed said they were helping their first college-bound child and that they found the event helpful in understanding how to navigate the FAFSA application.

“I didn’t know anything about FAFSA [before College Goal Sunday], this is all new to me,” said Monica Vick, whose daughter is a senior at Hill Regional Career High School.

This year, College Goal Sunday events were held in 15 different cities across Connecticut.

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