(WXYZ) — Heading off to college can be intimidating, even more if you're the first one in your family to do it.
Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars is using that awareness to connect local students to essential resources and peers who have walked in their shoes.
People like Marketea Abbott.
She recently returned to Melvindale High School, where she graduated in 2018. There, she met up with Lina Karteet, who had just graduated in 2021.
“I used to see her in the halls," Karteet said.
The two didn't know each other very well while in high school but now have formed a unique bond; Abbott is helping Karteet navigate her first year at Wayne State University.
As the first in her family of ten to ever attend college, Abbott knows firsthand how challenging the first year can be.
“I didn’t know how to navigate college. I was three hours away from home," Abbott told 7 Action News.
Now a thriving senior at Hope College, Abbott is a post-secondary coach with Dollars for Scholars. Like Karteet, she completed the program while at Melvindale.
As a coach, she's a vital resource for Karteet; other times, she's simply an encouraging voice or a shoulder to lean on.
“If a student has had someone in their family go off to college before, that pathway is kind of forged," said Dollars for Scholars Executive Director Christa Funk. “But if you’re the first in your family to go, there’s a lot of questions out there," she continued.
From juggling FAFSA forms, building relationships with advisers, navigating campus, balancing a budget, or just getting used to living on your own; it can be a lot.
“You get that low grade, and you say, well maybe I can’t do this, and you kind of start to think like, maybe this isn’t for me. If I’m the first in my family, no one else has done it, so maybe I can’t do it. And for us, it’s really important to have people like Marketea in place to say, no, you can do this," Funk said.
The guidance starts in high school with a teacher adviser. Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars then follows students through their first two years of post-secondary learning; whether that be at a two or four-year college or a trade school.
What a handful of community members started as a grassroots effort in 1990 to help local high schoolers advance to college now has 14 partner high schools across metro Detroit.
Dollars for Scholars also offers $4,000 to students who complete their program in high school. That money can be used as an aid to fill in financial gaps for things like books or transportation.
“We do a lot to track our students’ success," Funk said.
They track enrollment to post-secondary education within the first six months of high school graduation. Funk said they also look at persistence, year one to year two in college, and completion rates.
“The national rate for students from lower-income backgrounds is about 20 percent. And we are over 67% of our students completing within six years.”
Karteet, who is studying nursing at Wayne State and plans to minor in illustration, said having a peer like Abbott there made a big difference, especially while starting college during a global pandemic and learning online.
“If I wasn’t sure of anything, like college-related or just anything, I would like text her. It was easy to connect with her," Karteet said.
On March 16, Gov. Whitmer will speak at the Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars annual luncheon celebration, congratulating this year's 117 local seniors heading off to college.
But the event is also a time to celebrate success stories, some of them still in the making.
"The program has changed my life, and I will say that time and time again," said Abbott.
The program will add its 15 partner school, Redford Union, this coming fall.