Supporting strangers strengthens community
“We need to pay more attention to the good news,” observed Jaqueline Blockson at a reception honoring two college scholarship recipients. Community members had gathered at Forest Hill Church to offer financial and emotional support to students and express confidence in their capacity to navigate the future. It was affirming and hopeful.
Blockson, a wonderful ambassador to the community and advocate for Heights High students, is the point person for connecting community donors who want to provide college scholarships with the students who need them.
This year, Heights High graduating seniors received $96,000 in scholarships from 45 different scholarship funds. Blockson was the matchmaker that made it work.
Many of the scholarship donors were so impressed with the students who applied for support that they raised additional funds to be able to help all of them. This was another reason Blockson thinks we have a lot to celebrate!
The uplifting Forest Hill gathering shined the spotlight on two strangers to the church, 2019 Heights graduates Treasure Eiland and Trevion Johnson. The congregation provided the seed money in honor of one of its activist members, retired school board member Ron Register, and garnered additional support from community members who wanted to honor his service by investing in future leaders.
They wanted to do more than send a check. The reception was an opportunity to meet the students and give these young adults a chance to meet the people who want the best for them.
One of the biggest hurdles for community members who want to make a difference to individuals is access to the intended recipients. This can be especially daunting when working with an institution, like the public schools, which has massive needs and faces endless demands. Who do you call when you want to help a student?
When it comes to scholarships, it is Blockson. A member of the guidance staff at Cleveland Heights High School for the last 28 years, her work complements that of the guidance counselors. She does everything college-related.
A master of relationships, she is the connector between the school and college representatives, and between scholarship donors and students.
From her office inside the school, she guides students and families through the daunting, and often intimidating, process of planning for college and finding the funds to finance it. She tracks down students to make sure they reach high and follow through. She manages the process from when the scholarships are set up to when they are awarded. Her warmth, tenacity and commitment help students and families access the life-changing process of higher education. She loves her job and it shows.
As the past director of Reaching Heights, one of my roles was to mobilize and direct community resources to support the success of our schools. This required finding meaningful, realistic and nonintrusive opportunities.
Harnessing and directing goodwill is a valid and essential activity. I am grateful that Reaching Heights continues to play that role, and I am grateful that the school district invests in a staff member who can play this role in supporting our students to pursue education beyond Heights High. They found a truly approachable person when they hired Blockson.
I am always moved when the members of our generous community invest in the well-being of strangers. This impulse to want others to succeed, and to share in our good fortune, strengthens our society. All of our lives and our community are made better from these acts of kindness. It happens both in big ways and small. It is profound and humane.
It is important to remember the value of embracing those we don’t know, and it is good news when we do.
Susie Kaeser is a 40-year resident of Cleveland Heights and the former director of Reaching Heights. She is active in the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters.