RACINE — A young Racine nonprofit that gives low-income children private school scholarships is this spring celebrating its first scholarship recipients to graduate high school.
Scholarships, Opportunities & Access in Racine, or SOAR, started five years ago and on June 1 two students who have been getting help from the organization since its founding graduated from St. Catherine’s High School.
Mariah Vazquez, 18, of Racine, will go on to study nursing at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee. And Juan Perez Jr., 18, of Mount Pleasant, will attend the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Perez got SOAR scholarships for his eighth-grade year at John Paul II Academy, 2023 Northwestern Ave., and for four years of high school at St. Catherine’s, 1200 Park Ave. His parents wanted a faith-based education for him, with the morals and values that typically come with that, Perez explained.
He’s grateful to SOAR because his parents never could have afforded a private school education without the nonprofit’s help, and that private education kept him on track to graduate, he said.
“There probably would have been more distractions” in a public high school, he explained.
Vazquez agrees about those distractions. She thinks she might not have graduated if she’d attended a public high school, she said.
Vazquez’s mom, Michelle, wanted a private school education for her daughter because she felt public school teachers, with their overloaded classrooms, never had enough time for each student.
Mariah Vazquez was on a SOAR scholarship waiting list for her eighth-grade year, when she attended the 21st Century Preparatory charter school, 1220 Mound Ave. She got homework help from SOAR that year and then got scholarships for her next four years, all at St. Catherine’s.
“It’s exceptional,” Michelle Vazquez, a 39-year-old correctional officer of Racine, said of SOAR. “There aren’t even words to say how good what they do is.”
SOAR’s mission is to make private school education accessible to families who are economically disadvantaged by awarding scholarships based on low family income and residency in the Racine area.
SOAR started in 2009 with 10 scholarship recipients, all in elementary or middle school grades. Some students have left since then while others have been added, though no new students were older than Vazquez and Perez. SOAR this year awarded 10 scholarships. The nonprofit has paid out more than $120,000 since its founding, Executive Director Laura Sumner Coon said.
The scholarships are funded through donations and grants, Sumner Coon said.
Scholarships are $2,500 for an elementary or middle school student and $5,000 for a high school student. The schools give SOAR students a financial break on tuition so their scholarships plus family fees of $500 per school cover the full cost, Sumner Coon said.
SOAR students meet with nonprofit staff regularly and get matched with volunteer mentors. They also have access to group homework help. Families must sign an agreement that the student will attend school, have good behavior and ask for help. Students must also maintain a 2.0 GPA or be making a concerted effort academically, Sumner Coon said.
She said she’s enjoyed watching Vazquez and Perez blossom over the years. Vazquez has conquered her shyness and Perez has learned to balance work and play, she said.
“It’ll be nice to see what happens to these students as time goes on.”
How to help
If you are interested in giving time or money to SOAR, contact Executive Director Laura Sumner Coon at 262-498-9425 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.