Supporting Undocumented Students through Scholarship

by Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits

Scholarships A-Z was started more than 10 years ago by undocumented individuals and allies as a way of providing resources and support to students who are undocumented and wanting to pursue higher education. The organization is dedicated to the idea that everyone deserves access to higher education, regardless of immigration status. Approximately 2,000 undocumented youth graduate from Arizona high schools every year, with most lacking the institutional support, guidance and supportive network they deserve. 

Many volunteers for the organization provide services through the “ISH,” or “Immigrant Scholarship Hustle,” and have the privilege of helping a number of students fill out and edit their scholarship applications to attend institutions such as Pima Community College, the University of Arizona and Grand Canyon University. 

What is important to remember about the work of Scholarships A-Z is that — for reasons that are likely obvious — it relies entirely on private donations for its funding, as government funding is simply out of the question. Most fundraising is from individuals in the community who provide as little as $10 per month to keep the mission going. Working with undocumented youth, while extremely rewarding, carries its own set of challenges that are not always apparent to those not familiar with the work Scholarships A-Z does. And COVID brought an entirely new set of challenges in 2020.

What is so inspiring about the work of the organization over the past year was its ability to not only pivot to changing its funding structure but also how it continued to build a sense of community amongst the students. In addition to a Zoom Game Night, Scholarships brought its community together for a socially distanced picnic so that, even at a time when we were not supposed to be together, we could be together safely.

However, what really provides a new level of inspiration is the fact that, given that this is an underserved population to begin with, the organization was able to repurpose its fundraising so that, rather than raising funds exclusively for scholarships, it was able to raise more than $40,000 for COVID relief funds. These students were not eligible for the government’s COVID relief fund and many were in need of money for food, rent, everyday bills and, of course, their tuition. Their community was able to fundraise to assist in meeting the needs of our Scholarships A-Z village. 

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