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Bag Lady 2019: The Curious Connection Between Handbags and College Access

On September 12th, nearly 600 guests gathered at the Great Lakes Science Center for College Now’s fourth Bag Lady event, a biennial silent auction that supports the organization’s Mentoring Program.

Since 2011, College Now has paired volunteers from the business community with students who receive a College Now scholarship. Mentors and mentees build a relationship throughout the student’s college career, though many pairs stay connected far beyond graduation.

The Mentoring Program is critical to College Now’s work in helping students stay in college to see their degree through to completion. With the added layer of support from a mentor, 92% of College Now mentees return to college after their first year, in contrast to the national average of 74%.

With the arrival of Say Yes Cleveland, the Mentoring Program has grown dramatically this past year. Among the four national Say Yes chapters, Cleveland is the only site committed to pairing every Say Yes Scholarship recipient with a mentor, which College Now facilitates while continuing to maintain services for traditional College Now scholarship recipients.

Bag Lady’s goal is to help sustain and grow the Mentoring Program’s services, and College Now is proud to share that this year’s event raised over $400,000 for the program. While guests enjoy the opportunity to browse and bid on Bag Lady’s auction items, it’s important to College Now that attendees leave with more than an exciting addition to their closet.

To center the organization’s mission at the core of Bag Lady, this year guests were fortunate to hear from two College Now alumnae, Leah Hudnall and Shelby Roberts, who spoke about their postsecondary journeys with College Now, moderated by the illustrious Margot Copeland, formerly of KeyBank and the KeyBank Foundation.

Shelby, a recent graduate of Cleveland State University’s Washkewicz College of Engineering, shared her story of perseverance and the resources she leaned on, like College Now, while transferring schools and remaining enrolled during the loss of a close family member. Leah, a Howard University alumna, inspired attendees while speaking about intentionally remaining tied to Cleveland while she was away at school because resources like College Now were critical to her postsecondary success.

Both young women have now launched careers in northeast Ohio. Shelby works as a Transportation Engineer for Mott MacDonald and is pursuing her Masters of Civil and Environmental Engineering from Cleveland State University. Leah, who completed her Master of Arts in Nonprofit Administration from John Carroll University in 2015, currently serves as a Program Officer at Saint Luke’s Foundation.

College Now is extremely grateful to these remarkable young women for sharing their stories and for their help in educating Bag Lady guests and the greater Cleveland community about why College Now’s services are important to a student’s postsecondary success.

Bag Lady is a unique and exciting opportunity for College Now to garner support for the organization’s work, but as the 2019 event buzz dwindles, we know that the most important work will only continue to accelerate.

As Say Yes Cleveland services become embedded throughout the entire Cleveland Metropolitan School District over the course of the next few years, more students will receive scholarships and enter College Now’s Mentoring Program, which means the need for mentors is more pertinent now than ever.

College Now is excited to launch recruitment efforts later this fall to build up the next class of mentors who will play a crucial role in supporting future college students. We hope you’ll consider volunteering as a mentor or help us to spread the word among your networks as we look forward to the growth of the Mentoring Program.

If you have questions or are interested in becoming a mentor, please contact Madeline Rife, Director of the Mentoring Program, at mrife@collegenowgc.org, or visit www.collegenowgc.org/become-a-mentor/.