Sabrina Freeman always wanted to work with kids. As a child, she attended The Summer Camp in Washington, Maine, and returned in high school as a counselor there, giving her a glimpse at what her future could be like.
But she never thought she was college material.
“School was never something that was a priority for me. I was never a fan of it,” she said.
But through finding a new support system in her junior year of high school, Freeman said, she began to cultivate a love of learning.
“That really gave me the drive to live up to what people thought of me. I am so thankful for the people I have in my life now and who continue to support me,” she said.
Soon enough, she began taking Early College classes at the University of Maine at Augusta, completing courses in public speaking and sociology while she attended Hall-Dale High School just outside her hometown of Hallowell.
But, even after gaining the confidence to apply to college, the question of affordability remained.
Today, the 19-year-old social work student is one of 17 Promise Scholars at the University of Southern Maine (USM), the first group to receive the Promise Scholarship since the $15 million initiative was announced in the fall of 2017.
The Promise Scholarship is a collaborative effort between the USM Foundation and benefactors Richard and Carolyn McGoldrick of Scarborough. Working with youth development organizations across Maine, the fund helps identify disadvantaged youth who dream of attending college. Students are awarded an annual scholarship for the four years they attend USM aimed at reducing —or eliminating — their need for any student loans.
So far, some 50 donors have pledged or contributed upward of $6 million. The university hopes to fund 25 new scholarships each year, with 100 Promise Scholars attending at any one time.
For Freeman, the scholarship has made her college aspirations possible. Not only is she a semester ahead of most of her peers, Freeman is also a student athlete on the Southern Maine Huskies’ Track and Field team, running races, throwing shot put and javelin, and jumping pole vault.
In her studies as a social work major, she wants to give back to others, lending them the same kind of support she received years before.
“I want to work with underprivileged kids — children who don’t tend to have the support that most children, or every child should get,” she explained. “I want to be able to give them that extra help and push.”
It’s a situation with which she’s familiar.
When she returned as a counselor to The Summer Camp — a nonprofit, residential summer camp for girls from low-income and foster homes — camp leadership took her and other high school-aged students on college tours across Maine.
When Freeman’s peers saw she was considering attending USM, they urged her to apply for the Promise Scholarship — a decision she doesn’t regret.
“The Promise Scholarship was really the final decision for me to choose USM,” Freeman said.
Daniel Barton, Promise Scholar coordinator, said students are identified for the Promise Scholarship by youth development organizations, like The Summer Camp, as having a commitment to community service. The number of organizations, he said, continues to grow.
“So many organizations have already come out and said, ‘We want to support these promise scholars,’” he said.
Barton also said programs like Early College and the Promise Scholarship give students the confidence to succeed once they actually step onto USM’s campus, in addition to saving money.
“I think it’s a sign of early success that they’re challenging themselves, which is a good preparation for college — what to expect, and what to anticipate,” he said of Freeman’s Early College experience.
Freeman credits Early College with helping her adjust to life as a full-time university student.
“It saves you money, and I think having that smaller, less-consuming schedule was beneficial so I could focus on it and get a taste (for college) without overwhelming myself,” she said.
As part of her experience as a Promise Scholar, Freeman regularly meets with her advisor, and often has meetings with her cohort to discuss job readiness, professional mentoring, volunteer opportunities and more. Freeman recently detailed her experience as a Promise Scholar on Maine Public’s program “Maine Calling.”
“I really appreciate the meetings we have as an actual class,” she said. “We kind of can relate to each other based on our experiences.”
Barton said those shared experiences help students form meaningful connections with each other.
“What’s special about it is the connection these students all have by these youth development organizations from across the state who have identified these students who have potential and think USM is a good fit for them,” said Barton, who noted the program is still in its infancy and will continue to grow.
“There’s a lot to build. There’s a lot of energy behind Promise (Scholars) and there’s a lot of support,” he said. “To connect students to careers, with professional mentors, to each other and with community service projects — we have truly just gotten started.”
Story and photo by Alan Bennett // Office of Public Affairs