Photo by Heather Middleton
"Excited" was the word that came quickly to mind, for two local students, after receiving word they had won scholarships through the Association of Christian Ministers of Clayton County.
The elated students were Darius Phelps, 18, who recently graduated from Morrow High School, with a 3.7 grade point average, and Minh Nguyen, 19, who graduated from Forest Park Street School with a 3.2 grade point average.
Phelps said he was already looking for scholarships for which to apply, when his Latin teacher told him about the scholarships through the Christian ministers group. Phelps said he applied, without hesitation. "I had gotten the news I won the scholarship, just before my birthday," he said. "It was a really nice early birthday present."
Nguyen said his school already had a connection with the ministers organization, and his teachers encouraged him to apply. When he got the news that he had won a scholarship, he said, he was a little skeptical. "I thought they were playing around with me, at first," he said. "You know, I'm not the type who wins anything."
The Association of Christian Ministers of Clayton County is made up of several ministries around the county, according to Pastor Jeff Lowe, of The First Baptist Church of Riverdale. He said the idea to start a scholarship fund came about last year when members got together and decided they needed to give something back to the youths in the community.
Through monthly membership dues and the group's Easter program, the organization was able to come up with enough money, this year, to award two scholarships, each for $1,000. Lowe said one was for a college-bond student, and the other was for a student planning to attend a technical school.
To get the word out, Lowe said, the group contacted high schools and private schools in Clayton County, for names of students, whom the schools thought would be good representatives and candidates for the scholarships.
Lowe said the organization received a number of applicants, and to help in narrowing down the list to two, put a lot of emphasis on the essays students submitted.
"Both these scholarships were related to community service, and some of the students wrote about community services they were already involved in ... [or] ... had already performed, and that really helped us a great deal," he said.
In addition to the essays, he said, the group looked at the students' grade point average, letters of recommendations and interviews.
Ann Almond, recording secretary for the organization, said Phelps won the community service scholarship award; had a 3.7 grade point average, was student council president, and volunteered at several homeless shelters, and with the American Red Cross.
She said Nguyen won the technical scholarship award; had a 3.2 grade point average, volunteered at many community food drives, and at assisted living facilities. She added that Nguyen's teachers described him as a positive leader, who was also kind to others.
Phelps said this scholarship could not have come at better time for him and his family. "It will be less of a burden on my family," he said, "We won't have to struggle financially." He will be attending the University of Georgia this fall, he added, were he plans to study early childhood education and English.
He aspires to be an elementary school teacher. "I would like to teach at McGarrah Elementary School one day," said Phelps, who added that he can't wait to start college.
Meanwhile, Nguyen, who will be attending the Atlanta Institute of Music, said this scholarship is a stepping stone for him, and it will definitely lighten the financial burden. "Who couldn't use a $1,000?" he said jovially. "Winning this scholarship really showed me that someone really cared about my dreams."
He said he will study recording and engineering, and can't wait to start. "I've been ready since December," he said.