CHICAGO (CBS) — Mimi Quinn, 18, couldn’t contain her pride and excitement as she waited downstairs at Alhambra restaurant in Chicago’s West Loop.
“This is an exciting day for me,” she squealed.
Quinn entered foster care when she was only five days old.
“My mom is a schizophrenic,” she said. “I lived with four foster families before I was 6-years old.”
Now, the Jacobs High School graduate is a Department of Children and Family Services scholar, honored with a luncheon with their families or guardians on Friday.
“This day is such an honorable and humbling moment. There were so many times that I thought my past would define me. All that misfortune. There were times when I didn’t know if I could overcome it, but today it shows that my destiny is now in my hands and all of that is behind me and none of it matters because I’m here today,” Quinn said.
The Algonquin teen and 52 others are receiving a four-year tuition waiver to a public university.
“The majority of these kids come into foster care at an early age. Some are abused, neglected or perhaps the home environment parents can’t parent well, so they end up in foster care,” said Kim Peck, Downstate Transition Administrator, Office of Education, IL DCFS.
“I feel like if I remained with my parents, things would be so different,” said Derrick Knight, 18, who spent his life being passed from family member to family member.
“I was 3 when they took me out of my parents home. I was raised by my grandmother and now my cousins. They taught me how to be strong and how to succeed,” he said.
Knight is also receiving a DCFS scholarship.
“I had high hopes, but I wasn’t really sure. When I received the letter, I was so proud. I was so excited. My cousin had the letter and she said I’m really proud of you, you’re going to go places,” he said.
The winners were selected from nearly 250 applicants across the state.
“It’s an excellent opportunity for them to be able to maybe be the first student in their family to go to college, complete college and have a great career,” Peck said.
The applicants are chosen based on their GPA, their extracurricular activities, their volunteer work, any outside jobs, and a personal essay.
“We are all so impressed by the applicants,” said Molly Uhe-Edmonds, deputy director of the DCFS Office of Education and Transition Services. “These students are persistent and resilient. We look forward to their future successes.”
The DCFS Scholarship Program provides a minimum of 53 scholarships each year, four of which are awarded to children of veterans. Youth who the Department has court-ordered legal responsibility for, youth who aged out of the Department’s care at age 18 or older, youth that the Department had legal responsibility for prior to the youth’s adoption being finalized, or youth that are in the Subsidized Guardianship or KinGap Program are eligible to apply for a DCFS Scholarship.
Scholarship recipients receive up to five consecutive years of tuition and academic fee waivers to be used at participating Illinois state community colleges and universities, a monthly grant and a medical card. Youth that graduated from high school in previous years or youth who are currently enrolled in college are eligible to apply for a Department scholarship, as long as they will be under the age of 21 on the scholarship application deadline of March 31 each year.
Quinn will be attending the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana and will study early childhood education. Knight is attending Southern Illinois University to study biology. He hopes to be an orthopedic surgeon.