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Such great heights: Local organization helps students reach new levels of achievement

Sam Maller | Contributing Photographer

Charity Ntansah and Leondra Polk, a junior public health major and a senior psychology and social work dual major, respectively, sit inside Hendricks Chapel on Monday. Both were former members of On Point for College.

When she was in high school, Leondra Polk saw her older siblings running a table for a local organization called On Point for College. This group helped her family make it through college, but she didn’t ask too much about it at the time.

However, when her junior year at high school started, Polk, now a senior psychology and social work dual major, started to ask how the organization could actually help her when she began looking at colleges.

This is the start of just one of many stories from On Point for College, a nonprofit organization in Syracuse, N.Y. It aims to help young adults who have the drive but not the resources to attend college. So far, it’s helped more than 3,000 people attain a higher education.

The organization doesn’t limit itself only to college tours. Fritz Diddle, On Point for College’s development associate, said the group commonly provides transport between homes and colleges, gives financial aid for housing deposits and tuition, and serves as a collection of active guardians for students. Other duties the group has performed include helping students choose and apply to schools, talking to families and driving to repair broken eyeglasses, or even emergency dental work.

The duties are “all the things you’d need to move into a dorm room if you were coming out of a homeless shelter,” Diddle said.

As Polk got more involved, On Point For College took many of these steps to become a part of her education. Its members helped with applications, financial aid and studying, as well as kept in contact with her every day she attended Syracuse University.

“I literally can’t complain about anything they have or haven’t done,” Polk said.

As her time at SU went on, Polk developed close relationships with the staff that went beyond professional assistance. Despite their equally busy lives, she got to know the members of On Point for College and developed meaningful connections that helped her immensely.

Ginny Donohue first founded On Point for College in 1999 from the trunk of her car, only spreading word of it through homeless shelters, community centers and settlement houses.

Since then, On Point for College has garnered 20 full-time staff members and 160 volunteers, winning the College Nonprofit of the Year by the Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce in 2008. Donohue herself has won several awards, including the 2004 Post-Standard Achievement Award.

“I’ve come there crying, stressing, happy when I’ve accomplished something, and they’re there,” Polk said. “They’re always there.”

The organization now receives between 700 and 800 students looking for help every year, often ranging between 17 and 25 years old. Most have finished high school, dropped out of college or just gotten out of jail.

Charity Ntansah, a junior public health major, is another SU student who received help from On Point for College after hearing about the group at the Southwest Community Center.

The organization helped by bringing Ntansah on college tours, taking her shopping for some basic needs and emailing firms to find her a summer job.

“If you need a book, they’ll fight for it,” Ntansah said. “They have a lot of heart.”

On Point for College has also assisted many SU graduates. Ryedell Davis, a 2007 alumnus who was a human service and health professions dual major, said the organization played a large role in encouraging him to stay in school and improving his study skills.

Davis is currently the co-founder and assistant executive director of Avoid Negative Garbage, Enjoy Life, or ANGEL, a youth program for keeping young adults away from violent lifestyles.

Donohue’s commitment inspired Davis to promote the same ideals in his community, and he spreads word of the organization as much as possible.

“I recommend it daily,” Davis said. “Even to the kids I interact with on a daily basis.”

On Point for College’s future of making higher education more accessible recently took a large step. This summer, it received a College Access Challenge Grant by New York, a $1.9 million federal grant. Two On Point for College centers will be made in New York City and upstate New York by next summer.

With more than 3,350 students each year receiving aid, it came as a pleasant shock to the organization’s members.

After hearing how much On Point for College is going to grow, Ntansah was thrilled to know that so many more students would be helped as she was.

“With just that small crew, you have no idea how many lives they’ve influenced,” Ntansah said. “I think it’s great. That’s the best news I’ve heard all week.”

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