First-generation college students can struggle transitioning successfully from high school to college, including wading their way through financial aid, according to Elizabeth Paulus.
But her Mesa-based organization, College Bound AZ, is helping with that through myriad programs.
Paulus and her husband, Gerald, plant a seed with eighth grade first-generation students, letting them know college is possible and they are going to go.
Through College Bound AZ’s program Rise Scholars, the couple gives laptops to the lowest income demographic. They streamline the college application process and take them on college tours.
Finally, they provide food boxes on the community college level to address food insecurity.
“About 60% of students in the community college system are food insecure,” says Paulus, a Chicago native. “Our food box program helps relieve one of the stressors and burdens of completing their education. They did a study in our state: 60% of students are food insecure, and 13% are homeless.”
To raise much-needed fund, College Bound AZ is throwing Chicago Fest West, a celebration of all-things Windy City from 2 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19, at the Mesa Convention Center.
Featured performers are Bluesman Mike and the Blues Review Band (3 p.m.); Breakdown, a Tom Petty tribute (5 p.m.); REO Survivor, an REO Speedwagon and Survivor tribute (7 p.m.); and Chicago Rewired, a Chicago tribute (8:15 p.m.). The Valley band Palomas performs at 2 p.m.
The live music show will kick off with bagpipers performing in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.
The day prior, starting at 6 p.m. Friday, March 18, College Bound AZ is hosting Party with a Purpose!, an exclusive pre-party with legendary Chicago Bears quarterback and Arizona resident Jim McMahon. With a $100 ticket, fans can attend a meet and greet with McMahon and have food and drinks from 6 to 8 p.m.
Other activities include “Coleslaw Carey” cornhole, a kids zone, sports memorabilia sales, a VIP lounge and food vendors
Party with a Purpose! also will have silent and live auctions, a 50/50 raffle and live music. Carvin Jones and Ocean’s Rat Pack will provide the entertainment.
Last year’s fundraiser was held in a pub, so this year the couple decided to take it a step further and turn it into a music festival.
“There are a lot of people from Chicago here,” Paulus says. “I thought this could have a lot of momentum. We decided to grow it to the next step, so we’re taking it out of the pub and putting it into a music festival that’s at the Mesa Convention Center.
“We need these funds to buy laptop computers or provide scholarships.”
The couple founded College Bound AZ in 2010, after they observed low-income students struggling to figure out how they could get into college using the benefits that were designed for them.
“It’s just a little more complex than your usual high school assignment,” she says. “So, by virtue of watching them struggle and realizing that number of low-income students, we walk them through some of the steps for their college applications.”
Last summer, the Arizona Legislature approved the Arizona Promise Program, which provides scholarships for low-income students to cover tuition and fees at ASU, UA or NAU.
“That’s great, great news, right?” she says. “Well, these are kids who have never set foot on that university. Now you’re going to send them fully funded? I love it. But if you’ve never stepped foot on a university campus, oh, my gosh, it’s its own little city.”
These students are more than intimidated.
“So, the need for our program is even more important than it ever was before,” she says. “There’s a bigger population of students with this wonderful potential and a system that’s trying to help them that also is its own barrier in some ways.”
Paulus says her job is gratifying, and she wants to raise awareness of College Bound AZ.
“It’s amazing to watch these students succeed,” she says. “It’s more gratifying than I imagined.”
Chicago Fest West
WHEN: 2 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19
WHERE: Mesa Convention Center, 263 N. Center Street, Mesa
COST: Tickets start at $12
Ultimate VIP Pre-Party
WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday, March 18
WHERE: Hob Nob Sports Grill, 7200 Chandler Boulevard, Chandler