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‘Heart of a Champion’: Success begins with a home -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

‘Heart of a Champion’: Success begins with a home

Travis Pinckney escaped a life of poverty and crime with the help of a tutoring and scholarship program provided by Habitat for Humanity of

By Bill Sanders


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The first time he took the SAT in 2004, Travis Pinckney scored 880 out of a possible 1,600. That wasn’t nearly good enough to be admitted to the University of North Florida.

He took the ACT and scored a 15 out of a possible 36 — again, not good enough.

Travis’ family lived in a Habitat for Humanity house in Jacksonville, Florida, which automatically qualified him for a full scholarship to the University of North Florida through a private scholarship founded by a local philanthropist, and administered out Habitat of Jacksonville.

All he had to do was participate in a civic- and academic-minded preparatory program, and then meet North Florida’s admissions standards: a 1040 on the SAT or a 19 on the ACT.

He needed this scholarship. He took the tests a third time, and he failed again. The fourth, fifth and sixth time netted the same results.

But on the seventh time — the glorious seventh time — Travis made a 21 on the ACT.

“We all cried when I got the results,” he said. “Everything I had gone through had finally paid off.”

The payoff was roughly $60,000 in room, board, tuition and book fees for four years.

But could this young man who grew up in extreme poverty, with drugs and crime all around him, really warrant a $60,000 investment?

It depends. How much does changing the future of one child count? How about 10 kids? Or hundreds?

A chance for success

About 15 years ago, longtime Habitat for Humanity supporters David and Ann Hicks endowed $4 million to the University of North Florida to go toward scholarships for students from Habitat homes, or from families in Jacksonville Housing Authority or Section 8 housing. The response the first several of years wasn’t good, and no one really knew why.

Habitat for Humanity Jacksonville stepped up and formed a prep club in 2002, hoping to reach younger children and coach them toward better academic outcomes.

“We wanted to take a look not only at why kids were not getting into colleges, but why they weren’t doing the necessary steps to give them a chance to get into college,” said Jen Betkey, data and education manager at Habitat of Jacksonville.

The prep club started with 21 kids and now has 253. So far, all 143 students who have come through the program and been accepted into the University of North Florida have gotten full scholarships: tuition, room and board, and books. Nine more will start college this year.

Fifty-seven percent of these students have gone on to graduate, which is 8 percentage points higher than the university’s overall average.

The program has a lot of seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders. If they stick with the program and get accepted into the university, they are eligible for the scholarship. Currently, there is $6 million in an endowment at the university that is specifically for Habitat and Section 8 families.

But even the students who don’t ultimately qualify for the scholarship are much better prepared to succeed at other colleges, junior colleges or technical schools.

“We teach them time-management skills, how to write essays, test-taking tips, and provide free practice ACT or SAT tests,” Betkey said.

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