A pair of students from the West Side passionate about criminal justice reform are the recipients of Breakthrough’s inaugural Alumni Scholarship. Jessica Daniels and DeAngelo Johnson said the development they experienced in Breakthrough’s Youth Network has helped them become mentors and leaders in their community. 

Jessica, a 20-year-old junior focused on criminal defense law at Howard University, has participated in the BYN since she was young enough to play T-ball. Now, Jessica volunteers at Breakthrough and in the community when she’s home for break. Growing up, she said participating in programming helped her open up, find her voice, and build strong relationships. What she values most about coming back to volunteer at Breakthrough is how relational the experience is for everyone involved. 

“I’ve volunteered in the Women and Men’s Centers, the Fresh Market, as well as the Christmas Store and other seasonal events. For me, I just really appreciate that Breakthrough humanizes people,” Jessica said. “Getting to see how it works in other places in Chicago has been very passive, and it’s not as relational. At Breakthrough, it feels like a family and that needs are being met in the most human way possible.”

DeAngelo, a 22-year-old senior at UIC, is a criminology major and is training to become a Chicago police officer. DeAngelo participated in Breakthrough programming like basketball and Bible study, and was a member of the 2007 championship baseball team. He said his support system, from his parents to his mentors, have been instrumental in his success academically and in the community.

“Being able to become mentor has been a blessing. The youth that I work with and the group of people I’m surrounded by push me everyday and make me become a better leader,” DeAngelo said. “One thing I would say [to the youth] is listen to older people that say ‘I was once in your shoes.’ I didn’t pay them much attention, but as I got older, I started to realize what they said was true. The advice they gave was great and it’s something I give back to the youth in my life.”

The Breakthrough Alumni Scholarship is awarded to graduating high school seniors or current college students that participated in Breakthrough programming for more than four years. Preferred applicants maintain a 3.0 GPA and are in need of financial relief for their studies. Scholars are granted $5,000 toward tuition, room, and board and may reapply each year of their collegiate careers. 

The scholarship is made possible through a generous, anonymous donor, allowing Breakthrough to support the scholars and leaders of the community.