Jennifer Ochiagha is a little busy these days. Besides being a full-time grad student in mental health and counseling at NYU, she holds a full-time job at the Isaacs Center as a recruitment and admissions coordinator, plus she’s interning at a private practice called BeMore.
“I do like to keep busy,” she laughs—then adds, more seriously: “There’s benefits at the end of the rainbow. So that’s what I look towards.”
Ochiagha is one of this year’s 31 scholarship winners at the Isaacs Center and Goddard Riverside. Our two organizations gave out a total of just under $60,000 to help students pay for higher education.
Ochiagha is footing the bill for grad school on her own. She says her award will go straight to tuition: “I’m, like, taking loans out to the point where it’s actually making me very nervous. So I just feel like this scholarship can help eradicate some of that fear. I can have a little bit more breathing room.”
Her goal is to help disadvantaged youth with their mental health needs and eventually open her own private practice—and maybe launch a talk show, “kind of like Steve Harvey or Dr. Phil but more feminine, a little less controversial and a little bit more socially and culturally competent.”
Born and raised in the Bronx, Ochiagha got to know the Isaacs Center when a friend asked her to come give a talk to young participants about her YouTube channel (her videos, a mix of advice, storytelling and person-in-the-street interviews, get thousands of views). She liked the atmosphere at the center so when a job opportunity came up, she took it—and she’s glad she did.
“I really, really appreciate what the Isaacs Center has done for me,” she enthused. “I’ve been nothing but appreciated and valued. And the fact that in my job, they were able to also give me a scholarship for school, that’s just not something I would’ve ever expected.”
Shawn Riley has always been drawn to hospitals; one of his earliest memories involves a visit to one. “I don’t know why we were there, but I remember I was like—I just love this energy so much. I want to be here.” Because of that desire, and the desire to help people, he’s dreamed about becoming a doctor all his life. Now, with some help from Goddard Riverside’s Options Center, he’s set to begin pursuing that dream at SUNY Albany this fall.
Riley found the Options Center through Harlem Lacrosse, a school-based nonprofit that provides academic support, mentoring and counseling in addition to athletics. He worked with an Options Center counselor to apply to college and figure out how to pay for it. “Options is definitely one of my favorite things I’ve ever been a part of, because there’s so many good things that come out of it,” he said.
For a long time he assumed he’d have to major in biology, but after talking to a doctor about his educational path he realized he could branch out a little more as an undergraduate. So he’s taking journalism this fall and sociology in the spring: “I can just like feel those options out and see what I like more, which I’m super excited about.”
Riley has won enough scholarships to cover his first year’s tuition, which is a great head start on keeping his school costs down. He says his Options scholarship money will go straight to necessary expenses. “It’ll probably be my meal plan. Because of Options, I’m eating, so I love that.”
What does he want people to know about him? “I think you should know that I am a queer black teen man about to change the world,” he said.
“When I was growing up,” he explained, “I never saw anyone that not only looked like me, but also understood me, understood the queer experience, understood the black experience. One of the main reasons I want to be a doctor now is so other people can know that this is possible. There is a community of people out there that share the same traits as you, that share the way you think. You are not alone.”
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