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Make sure you wait for your financial aid award letter before setting your heart on a particular college. That is, unless you can pay sticker price for the school without any merit-based aid or need-based aid. I heard a sad

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Throughout the years, Dudley and Urist McCauley, mentor and director of technical services, have acted as surrogate parents. Students have temporarily lived with them or called in the middle of the night to be taken to the emergency room. Dudley and a staff of five guide the students through mountains of paperwork, academic and social pressures, and practical problems from how to dress for an interview to which fork to use at a nice dinner.

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This scholarship program entails more than just supplying the financial means to attend college — the program encompasses learning life skills, building self-esteem and changing ingrained cultural, social and familial stumbling blocks.

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Dudley says many students have been in survival mode for so long, they have built a shell around themselves. “They don’t know how to handle someone who cares and loves them and is not expecting a paycheck from them.”

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When Steven Tyree, an outstanding athlete and scholar who attended a small high school in Fayette, first went to the University of South Alabama, he had a hard time adjusting to a class with 300 students when his entire high school totaled 280 students. He turned to his mentors to stay grounded.

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As these students navigate their way through college, they shoulder more than just maintaining their grades, good behavior and community service. Often they face resentment and misunderstanding from the families and communities they’ve left behind. Many times they lack the basic necessities most college students take for granted — clothing, dorm room furniture and supplies, even adequate housing when they go home for the holidays.

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The foundation carefully considers college choices for each student to ensure the best fit. To remain part of the program, students must maintain a minimum C+ grade average and continue to be involved in a civic role. “It is an accountability program, not a welfare program,” says Dudley.