Breaking barriers

Liberty students help public high school students apply and prepare for college

Thirteen Liberty University work-study students are working with the nonprofit Lynchburg Beacon of Hope to help prepare local high-school students for postsecondary education. They provide the guidance and resources the students need to apply for college and financial aid.

Beacon of Hope has “Future Centers” at E. C. Glass High School and Heritage High School, where students meet one-on-one with the Liberty work-study students.

The Liberty students look at transcripts, help edit personal essays, aid in scholarship searching and provide mentorship, according to Tony Ryals, a Liberty student working with Beacon of Hope.

“Our goal was not to put a group of administrators in the hallway behind a table — that doesn’t make sense,” Robert Ritz, senior vice president of Student Financial Services, said. “It’s great when Liberty students are connecting with high school students because they’re living college — they’re doing it.”

The program targets at-risk youth, encouraging them to advance to a four-year college, community college, trade school or the armed services, Ryals said.

“While ‘at risk’ may seem that they have behavioral issues, that’s really not the case,” Ryals said. “It’s more their economic or income status. … Income is that huge barrier that they sometimes don’t know if they can cross or get over, so we’re there to help.”

Liberty matches scholarships offered by Beacon of Hope for students interested in attending Liberty and pays 25 percent of the work-study wages, according to Ritz.

Beacon of Hope offers scholarships of $8,000 to students going to local postsecondary schools and $5,000 for others within Virginia, according to Lynchburg Mayor Joan Foster, development director of Beacon of Hope.

MENTOR — E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg is one of the two public high schools with “Future Centers” Liberty students visit to assist high school students in preparing for college life. Photo credit: Taylor Coleman

MENTOR — E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg is one of the two public high schools with “Future Centers” Liberty students visit to assist high school students in preparing for college life. Photo credit: Taylor Coleman

“We are just trying to make it so that these students … see a future,” Liberty financial aid advisor Jennifer Loomis said. “They see that they can do anything, and we’re just trying to break those barriers down.”

The overwhelming process of application also contributes to the barriers. On FAFSA Nights hosted by Beacon of Hope, Loomis and other financial aid advisors help families through FAFSA forms.

“When we finally complete the FASFA after working on it for 30 minutes, families have broken down crying, because that’s not something that they thought that they could get through,” Loomis said.

Ryals said one student he worked with had recently returned to Lynchburg after spending eight years in Scandinavia. Since his credits were being transferred, he didn’t even know his GPA.

“It really seemed like the odds were stacked against him, but he was just like, ‘Just tell me what I need to do. Tell me what I need to work on, and I will do it. I will come here — if you’re here, or if anyone is here — I will come here and get the help that I need,’” Ryals said.

Liberty’s work-study students also serve in elementary schools and in recreation or community centers as part of the Federal Work Study Community Service Program (FWSCSP). Beacon of Hope is simply the high school facet of Liberty’s educational work in the community.

“They’re not only reaching the high school students, they’re trying to get the middle school students and the elementary school students already interested in college,” Loomis said. “We want to start young. We want to put this hope in you as early as possible, so that once you get to high school, you’re already thinking about college.”

In addition to the 13 students working at local high schools through Beacon of Hope, 24 students tutor at local elementary and middle schools and 53 work at recreation and community centers, Ritz said.

“President Falwell has directly supported the program,” Ritz said, “He wanted it to happen with Mayor Foster, and it happened.”

Beacon of Hope began in 2011, the result of a talk on race and racism initiated by Foster, as well as the city manager and other citizens of the community.

“Education is just a great equalizer for all,” Foster said. “It tears down the barriers between those who have, and those who have not.”

Foster said Beacon of Hope also helps the local economy, when students become educated, remain in the community near their college and join the workforce.

“Overall, if we have an educated and skilled workforce, we’re going to improve the quality of life in this community for everyone by investing in what I call our most precious resource, which are our children, who, of course, are the future.”

Foster said they always welcome Liberty volunteers and work study students if they are interested in Beacon of Hope.

“They help us out tremendously,” Foster said. “I can’t begin to express our gratitude to Liberty for the number of work study interns we have. We have interns from the other local colleges, (but) we just have more from Liberty. It’s been a tremendous asset.”

More information is available at

Porsis a news reporter 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *