Rochelle Clark said she wanted to take part in the Cinderella Project Leadership Academy to make her life better, while Taylor Soape said she wanted to attend in order to learn how to boost her ACT score.
There were 23 more stories similar to Clark’s and Soape’s Thursday through Saturday during leadership academy sessions at the Lod and Carole Cook Conference Center at The Cook Hotel on LSU’s campus.
Founded by Shelton Jones, 39, and Sarah Dupree, 39, creators of the highly successful Cinderella Project in which underprivileged teens pick out donated prom dresses, the leadership academy was designed to provide deserving teenage girls an opportunity to branch out, meet new friends and learn what they needed to do to attend college.
Roots for the leadership academy grew from conversations Jones and Dupree had with girls participating in the Cinderella Project. Jones said they learned from some of the girls that college was not in their sights for one reason or another. So she and Dupree decided to move the program toward the next logical step.
“I don’t think they are on the wrong track, we are just trying to push them more than they have been pushed,” Jones said, adding that organizers of the leadership academy wanted to focus on the girls’ potential and inspire them to go to college.
“Some of these girls are the first people in their family to graduate from high school, much less college,” Jones said.
Soape, a 17-year-old senior at Holden High School, is one of those girls.
With her ever-present smile and positive attitude, she is not only graduating from high school, but she is taking college preparatory courses, including algebra, trigonometry and calculus, along with ACT prep courses to boost her portfolio for admittance to college.
She said she wants to go to LSU to challenge herself and try to get into the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. Attending the leadership academy, she said, was an invaluable experience that she would recommend to anyone.
But due to budget constraints, not everyone who applied was accepted.
Jones said they received nearly 150 applications for the program, far more than the number of applications they had expected. They worked with the LSU Office of Equity, Diversity and Community Outreach to develop a means of selecting the applicants, based on factors such as articulation and writing skills. The girls also had to turn in a letter of recommendation.
“Objectively, there was no way we could get through 100 applications,” Jones said.
In all, the 25 girls participating in the program came from 16 different schools in eight different parishes.
However, some of the girls could relate to each other on a deeper level than just wanting to better their lives by furthering their education.
What some people would consider extenuating circumstances are considered everyday life for some of the first graduates of the leadership academy.
Such things as learning disabilities, fractured families and stressful financial situations are among the obstacles the girls deal with.
Clark, 17, a junior at McKinley High School, wants to work with animals and wanted to came to the leadership academy to meet new people and learn about the types of scholarships and financial aid she could receive.
Since both of her parents are disabled and cannot work, Clark said, getting money for college could be a problem.
What she and the other girls did not know is that Jones and Dupree had arranged for them to receive $500 each to go toward college expenses.
Jones and Dupree kept it a secret until they told the girls and their families about the gift at a banquet Saturday night at the Stadium Club in Tiger Stadium.
Fidelity Bank will help set up the accounts and the girls can use the money to go to any college or university in Louisiana, not just LSU.
“That’s good because you need all the money you can get to go to college,” Marion Clark, Rochelle’s mother said.
The girls audited entry-level classes in history, nutrition and architecture on Friday to show them that for the most part, college classes are somewhat similar to their high school classes.
They also volunteered Saturday morning at the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank.
Jones said she and Dupree wanted to impress upon the girls during the three-day program the fulfillment of enjoying the true college experience.
“This is not just tour LSU and look at some buildings. (This is) roll up your sleeves and do some community service,” Jones said.
Speakers included Fidelity Bank CEO Meg Anderson, who advised how to save to attend college; Whitney Breaux, a public relations and social media specialist who stressed the importance of proper social media etiquette; and Ashley Hebert, 2012 Miss Black Louisiana, who talked to the girls about proper dress for certain occasions.