Kaniyah Key’s mother used her savings to support the family after she lost her job last year.

Ngawanga Chostso said she worried about how she would afford college because she’s from a low-income family.

Eddy Nkere still needs money to go to college but recently said he feels relieved.

The three Charlottesville High School graduates are first-generation college-bound students with big dreams for higher education and landing a good job. With some help from the Charlottesville Scholarship Program, they’re getting closer to achieving their goals.

“Not many people get this opportunity,” Key said. “I am very appreciative.”

Launched 18 years ago, the scholarship program hosted its annual reception Wednesday night at CitySpace. Along with Key, Chostso and Nkere, the 2019 scholars are Nia Bright, Sahara Clemons, Nian Huang, Esmeralda Lopez, Yahya Mohamed, Keshawna Nelson and Ashton Ryan. All of the recipients are CHS students who were selected by the program board members and guidance counselors from the high school.

Key said being the first in her family to go to college is a big accomplishment, noting that she’s blazing a trail and becoming a role model to her brothers as they grow up.

“You can follow your own dreams and become successful,” she said.

The 17-year-old plans to attend Old Dominion University to study exercise science, with hopes of someday working at the University of Virginia.

“This scholarship made me realize I need to keep believing in myself and get to where I want to go,” she said

Chostso, an 18-year-old aspiring nurse, also plans to attend ODU. She said the scholarship money will motivate her to do well in school.

“Being a first-generation college student, I can’t really rely on my parents and their experience,” she said. “So, I’ll definitely use [the money] as a source of motivation and kind of like my support system to get through the four years and possibly go back to school to get my master’s.”

Chostso said she applied to other schools, but she wasn’t offered enough financial aid.

“I just want to thank [the board] from the bottom of my heart,” she said. “It was my first scholarship, and it’s my only scholarship right now. No matter what the amount is, it just makes a difference in my life.”

The scholarship program — which began with a $250,000 grant and is supported by donations from local businesses and individuals — aims to help low-income students. Students are paired with a navigator — a local mentor who will provide advice and encouragement — to help them throughout their college journey.

This year, $71,750 in scholarships will be awarded, according to a program document. Scholarship recipients receive $1,500, with a $500 annual increase based on performance.

Program Vice Chairwoman Miette Michie said the applicants have “mind-blowing” stories, making the selection competitive.

“They’re holding 4.0 averages. They are working. They’re supporting their families,” she said. “They are in this and that club. These are very smart, motivated kids.”

The students won’t be the only group receiving help.

The scholarship program originally was designed to also assist city employees. Michie said the board has not focused on that, but it plans to put a stronger emphasis on assisting employees in the future.

“It’s a good way to give people the opportunity to do something new or something they’ve been interested in and may not have been able to afford to do,” Michie said.


Billy Jean Louis joined Charlottesville Tomorrow as its education reporter in April 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis speaks English, Haitian Creole and French.