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Raising Hope

Crowdsourced scholarship program offers a way for Clark County's homeless students to live on campus and get academic support to succeed at UNLV.

Campus News  |  Apr 22, 2016  |  By Jorge Labrador

Like most high school students preparing for college, Matthew Perry and Theresa Butler have a lot on their plates: Studying. Extracurricular activities. Applications. Financial aid.

But Butler and Perry have another pressing concern ahead of going to college: Both are living on their own — and homeless.

“Ever since the day my grandmother left, I’ve been sleeping at random friends’ houses, just trying to find a place to stay,” said Perry, whose mother left him when he was in 10th grade, followed by his grandmother a year later. “I go to work until late at night, I try to hurry up and get home to do homework, and try to get the best grades I can.”

Unfortunately, there are many stories like theirs in Clark County. There are approximately 12,000 unaccompanied or homeless youth in the area, about 700 of whom are high school seniors. Even when students graduate and are eligible to attend college in the fall, the interim summer can be uncertain, as these students have no place to live and lack the resources to prepare for college.

The UNLV HOPE Scholars Program is helping. A partnership between Clark County School District and UNLV, the program assists unaccompanied homeless students like Perry and Butler secure housing and academic and financial support. The program allows students to move to campus in June after high school graduation. It then assists students with employment, and provides academic support so that students are ready for fall classes.

To help continue that support, the program is counting on RebelRaiser, an online crowdfunding site recently launched by the UNLV Foundation. Using a model made popular by sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe, RebelRaiser is designed to harness the power of large numbers of people  to support worthy projects through many individual gifts. Donors make small or large contributions toward a project’s goal and are encouraged to share the project through email and social media. The idea is that multiple donations can have a larger but more targeted impact than one larger donation.

RebelRaiser has already helped UNLV dance students attend the 28th annual International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference in Denver, funded a digital storytelling collection at UNLV Libraries, and more. Now the UNLV HOPE Scholars program is using the site to rally support for homeless students. Its immediate goal is to fund room and board for one or more scholars for one year.  

“I got help getting into UNLV and getting my FAFSA done without worrying about where I’m going to live and if I’m going to get kicked out of my house the next day,” says Butler, who added that she moved in with friends while her mother faced addiction issues. “HOPE relieved that stress so I could focus on my dreams, and focus on the things that matter.”