MAKING COLLEGE A REALITY FOR EVERYONE
Children of incarcerated parents are often held accountable for their parents’ decisions and left to deal with the harsh reality of growing up without a mother or father in the home.
ScholarCHIPS, an acronym for Children of Incarcerated Parents, was founded on the belief that these young people should be given a chance before being written off by society. The D.C.-based nonprofit exists to provide college scholarships, mentoring and a support network to youth with incarcerated parents, inspiring them to pursue and complete their college degree, according to ScholarCHIPS founder and executive director Yasmine Arrington.
“It’s important to me that as many of these youth receive the opportunity to go to college and graduate,” Arrington said. “In the bigger picture, this is a solution to, and a sign of exiting, the War on Drugs era when so many people were sent to prison with lengthy sentences for non-violent crimes, leaving millions of youth without a parent, or sometimes without both parents, in the home.”
ScholarCHIPS was born out of Arrington’s, and her grandmother’s, frustration of not being able to find scholarships for children with incarcerated parents (Arrington’s father was incarcerated). This prompted Arrington to conduct her own research. In that moment she realized she wasn’t alone, that nearly three million youth in the U.S. have an incarcerated parent.
THE STIGMA OF BEING A CHIP
For Raynna Nkwanyuo, a senior at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA and one of ScholarCHIPS’ first scholars, the organization has helped make pursuing her degree in public health and administration easier. It also helped her to break some of the stigma that comes along with having an incarcerated parent (her mother was incarcerated for five years) by meeting other youth in her predicament.
“I’m very grateful for the organization,” Nkwanyuo said. “It’s provided me with a strong network and support system. Incarceration is a topic that’s rarely discussed. It gets swept under the rug, so I'm grateful that there's an organization that offers support to children of incarcerated parents."
“That’s when the nation was introduced to ScholarCHIPS,” Arrington said. “I received so much positive feedback from the show and many people still recognize me and the organization from that feature.”
BREAKING THE CYCLE
ScholarCHIPS holds several fundraising events throughout the year, including auctions, benefit concerts and wine tastings. Additionally, it participates in several conferences related to children of incarcerated parents and reentry programs.
To date, ScholarCHIPS has awarded more than $30,000 to 17 scholars. Arrington’s mission is to increase that number each year in hopes that more youth will realize that college can be a reality for them.
“When my scholars graduate, they’re breaking the cycles of intergenerational incarceration and poverty that continues to affect predominantly black and low-income communities,” Arrington said. “If given a chance, they can make some very positive, transformative decisions of their own. ScholarCHIPS is not only impacting individuals but their families, communities and ultimately, the nation.”