By giving hope to young residents of the Joliet neighborhood where she grew up, North Central College senior Danara Barlow has become a hometown hero.
As the recipient of North Central College’s 2014 Mironda K. Heston Scholarship for Human Service, Barlow was awarded a budget of $2,500 to fund work in human rights and service. With her funds, she created Project Better, a program that focuses on inspiring youth and preparing them for college.
“I grew up in their neighborhood,” she said. “They can look to me and say, ‘if she did it, I can do it.’”
The Heston Scholarship is awarded annually to one or more North Central College students, funding their work in a human rights and service capacity at home or abroad. The scholarship honors Mironda Heston, a 2002 graduate of the College, who died from an illness contracted in Haiti while working to improve health care. As Barlow completed the rigorous application process last fall, she says the award’s gravity was always on her mind.
“I looked at some of the past Heston-funded projects and I was so impressed. A lot of them were done out of the country, but I wanted to do something local.”
Now a Wheaton resident, Barlow targeted her childhood Joliet neighborhood Fairview Homes, a low-income public housing development managed by the Housing Authority of Joliet. She convinced seven students from grades eight through 12 to join the four-week summer program. Students attended goal-setting workshops and met with North Central faculty from a variety of departments, including psychology, marketing, religion, English and leadership, ethics and values. The program was held at the Fairview Homes Community Center, with career and college preparation workshops at North Central.
“One kid came into the program with no idea what he wanted to do after high school,” said Barlow. “He left excited and with a plan.”
According to Barlow, these plans-for college, career and life-inspired confidence in her students. Throughout the program, she had the students repeat “I am” affirmations, such as “there is greatness in me” and “I can accomplish every goal.” By the end of Project Better, Barlow noticed a significant difference in the students’ “I am” statements.
“They were so enthusiastic, so excited. It was great to see fresh confidence.”
Barlow plans to continue to serve as a role model. A psychology major, Barlow will pursue a master’s degree in leadership studies at North Central starting in spring 2015. She foresees a career in higher education and wants to inspire success and motivation in students of all backgrounds. While her Project Better is over for now, she hopes to expand and continue it in the future.
“I’m researching nonprofit companies right now, and I’d like to make Project Better bigger at some point,” said Barlow. “It affects these kids. One girl was asked to name the most influential thing that’s happened in her life.
“She said it was the moment she signed up for my program.”
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