EAST LIVERPOOL - Family, friends and members of the community at large were urged to support the educational endeavors of local students during the East Liverpool/Wellsville NAACP chapter's annual scholarship breakfast Saturday morning at United Brethren in Christ Church in East Liverpool.
Guest speaker Karen Williams-Hatcher told attendees, including East Liverpool Mayor Jim Swoger, of the great difference that such support made in her quest to become the first college graduate in her family. Hatcher, a member of the Wellsville High School class of 1977, earned a bachelor's degree in communications and a master's in sports administration from Ohio University, and now serves as senior associate athletic director for the University of Cincinnati.
While assuring this year's six scholarship recipients that they will need to work hard to earn good grades, graduate and succeed, Hatcher told the audience members that their encouragement could make all the difference to the students in their lives.
She quoted statistics saying that only 59 percent of U.S. college students go on to graduate with degrees, and wondered rhetorically what becomes of the other 41 percent.
"It's nice to win scholarships. You go off to school, you want to do well," Hatcher said. "But you need a lot of support, people telling you that you can do it and encouraging you to do your best."
Hatcher says that having the kind of encouragement she received, not only from members of her family but also from the greater Wellsville community, played a critical role in making her success a reality.
However, Hatcher told the students present that those who succeed should always remember where they came from and be willing to offer the same kind of support they received.
Inspired by the words of her late brother-in-law, Alvin Thompson, to "pay it forward," Hatcher announced that she would endow a pair of $500 college scholarships - one at East Liverpool, the other at Wellsville - for a graduating senior from each school for the next five years.
Hatcher says Thompson was instrumental in offering words of praise and encouragement, especially when she began to feel overwhelmed. "Whenever I struggled, I could go to him - often in confidence - and talk to him about my struggles," she said.
Following the ceremony, NAACP chapter president Whitney Taylor-Washington recognized the importance of assisting community scholars in pursuing higher education. "We want to help the students succeed in life," she said. She proudly pointed out that nearly all of the NAACP scholarship recipients over the past 20 years have finished college and earned their degrees.
One of this year's recipients had a special connection to his award. Don Austin Jr. received one of three Martin Scholarship in memory of his late uncle, James "Botsy" Martin, which were presented at the ceremony by his aunt, Florence Martin.
Austin, who graduated from East Liverpool High School, said he had many memories of attending many scholarship breakfasts while growing up.
"In honor of him and seeing the past recipients, receiving this scholarship is really an honor," he said. Austin says he looks forward to being able to achieve and subsequently give back to help future students further their educational opportunities also.