Recently, I wrote about a missed opportunity to help a mother buy $7.43 worth of baby food. I blew it. But getting involved with helping people in poverty is not easy but there are many practical ways individuals and churches can volunteer their time or provide donations. One effective long term strategy for fighting poverty is providing opportunities for high school students to go to college.

What if….

• You could help students prepare for the next step in life?
• You could provide Future Centers to serve as readiness hubs for students?
• Provide college opportunities in the form of scholarships?
• Create a culture that promotes educational opportunities from Pre-K through College?
• Create a stream of educationally prepared talent to benefit your community for years?
• Improve your community by investing in your most precious resource: your children?

One organization providing these benefits is Beacon of Hope formed in 2012 as a partnership with city schools and private enterprise to inspire and prepare students for education beyond high school. During the three years Beacon of Hope was active.

• 5% increase in graduation rates.
• 30% increase in students taking the SAT for the first time.
• 20% increase in students filling out Federal Student Aid forms.
• 15% increase in students continuing their education following high school.

Alyssa McBeth is a National Honor Society student, very involved in her school community and works a 30-hour per week job. Her family had zero dollars to contribute to her education. She earned one of the $5,000 Beacon of Hope Scholarships which enabled her to attend James Madison University.

The voice of Lynchburg Beacon of Hope is Joan Foster, a whirlwind of enthusiasm helping youth obtain better educational opportunities. Joan holds degrees in Elementary and Early Childhood Education, as well as Special Education. She is on Lynchburg City Council, served as Vice Mayor and Mayor and is Director of Development with Lynchburg Beacon of Hope.

“Beacon of Hope was born several years ago out of a Community Dialogue on Race and Racism,” said Joan. “At one point someone in the group asked how we could move beyond talk toward action. A challenge was issued: How can we provide help for any child in our city who wants to go to college? A few continued to meet at a local coffee shop for several months until one person put money on the table and said, ‘We’ve talked enough! Let’s make this happen!’”

Laura Hamilton was hired to research programs across the country to see what would be good for our community. She came back with a plan that combined ideas from several successful promise programs. Laura became the director of Beacon of Hope.

Foster added: “Any child that wants it should get money to go to college. Our scholarships reduce student debt. We also provide trained mentors to offer continual help and encouragement. We sponsor training events to help students fill out applications and we even pay many of the application costs.”

The Lynchburg News and Advance recently cited Beacon of Hope for hosting College Application Week. “For many, that means the difference between applying to and attending college or not. In three years applications to colleges increased by over 15%. One of the most effective initiatives of Beacon of Hope are the so-called ‘Future Centers.’ Students get assistance with every aspect of applying to college. But staffers don’t sit at their desks waiting for students to come to them; they make the effort to reach out to all students, starting as young as the ninth grade, to get them thinking about their lives after high school graduation. Keep it up folks; the kids need you.”

Azariah Cox attends Eastern Mennonite University as one of the first recipients of scholarship help. “Throughout my life I have faced many obstacles but these have not only made me stronger, they have made me a better person. I value things in life that many people take for granted; being able to be independent, have a good job and own a car. These things may seem like simple goals but to me they represent the steps of being a responsible member of the black community. My mom and dad are not together any more, which has left my mom to raise me and my brother by herself. This was hard for her to do with a job as a nursing assistant. Seeing my mom struggle as a single mother just makes me strive harder to make something of my life and make her proud. My mom does a lot to provide for our family but without scholarships, loans and financial aid I would not have the opportunity to go to a four year college of my choice. It is my dream to run track and get a college degree. With the help I got from Beacon of Hope, I know that I can make this happen.”

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord and will be repaid in full.” (Proverbs 19:17) Providing a helping hand to our disadvantaged youth through scholarships and other educational opportunities is a benefit that can impact the student, their family and community far beyond any dollars invested.

Beacon of Hope is about, “Developing students’ knowledge and skills so that they will succeed beyond high school, giving them the ability to shape their futures while building a better community.”

Joan Foster added, “One day our vision is to have a scholarship model that will help remove financial barriers for all students seeking higher education.”

For more information on Beacon of Hope you can email Joan Foster at or click on