Reaching Her Potential

“People who boldly and honestly explore. People who work to find that intersection between where their heart lies and where they can add something to the world, and relentlessly work toward that goal. We need more people like that.”

To College Bound coach Mariah Opager, 19-year-old Candice is one of those people.

Candice is a sophomore at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. A social work major, she’s highly engaged on campus as a member of the Student Plus Program and intern at Girls Inc., a United Way supported agency.

Growing up, Candice’s mom didn’t have the opportunity to attend college; yet throughout Candice’s childhood, she cast a vision of higher education for her daughter. She knew in her heart that attending college would help Candice reach her full potential and instill in her the desire to strive for a brighter future.

“She wanted to provide every resource possible to help me through school,” Candice said.

When Candice’s mom first heard about United Way supported College Bound, she knew it would be the perfect resource to bridge the gap and help her daughter achieve her goal of higher education. College Bound helped take Candice’s plan of attending college from a possibility to a reality.

Just as the name implies, College Bound prepares students for the next phase in their academic lives and provides the tools necessary to get there. Candice began attending College Bound her sophomore year of high school.

“It’s not just about getting them through high school and into college,” Mariah said. “It’s about teaching them how to make the most of their experiences and work toward self-improvement for the betterment of the world we live in.”

College Bound understands that a student’s confidence level can directly affect his or her ability to perform, especially when performance is tied to self-worth. For Candice, learning that her worth as a person was independent of her grades was a big step.

“In many cases, you see students who have very specific goals in mind and have the potential to reach those goals, but somewhere between that potential and the goals, they get off track,” Mariah said. “Part of my job as a coach is to help students keep their eye on these long-term goals and recognize their own potential to achieve these great successes.”

Through weekly interaction during Candice’s freshman year, Mariah provided relationship-based mentoring and guidance. From tutoring and ACT prep to money management and employment, College Bound covers all the bases to ensure students are not only prepared for higher education, they’re confident when they get there.

As is the case for many incoming freshman, the thought of college can be daunting. College Bound strives to help students navigate the often confusing and overwhelming obstacles they’re often faced with.

“I worried about money. I worried what would happen if I failed a class, if I didn’t like a class or a professor,” Candice said.

But Mariah was there to ease her fears. She sent Candice care packages and notes of praise to help her settle in. When Candice doubted herself, Mariah served as her cheerleader. When Candice stressed about an exam, Mariah talked her through it, reminding her that no matter how she scored, her self-worth wouldn’t change. She was her advisor, mentor, motivator, confidant and friend.

“College Bound has always been the resource I can go to. Without them, I don’t know if I’d be attending college.”

Today, Candice is a sophomore with a bright future ahead. She has big dreams, big aspirations; nothing is out of her realm of possibility thanks to the support of Mariah.

“When I speak with Candice about her future plans, she wants to make real change in her community – lifting not only herself up but those around her,” Mariah said.

As a social work major, Candice aspires to bring the support College Bound has given her full circle. After graduation, she plans to start her own nonprofit with the goal to enhance youth leadership with opportunities for community service and networking.

“I want to give my experience to someone else – something that reflects what I’ve been blessed with,” Candice said. “Something that reaches out to youth and, in turn, helps them reach out to others.”

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to discover who they are, their life’s purpose and contribution to the world,” Mariah said, “and Candice is an embodiment of this.”

About College Bound

College Bound provides promising students from under-resourced backgrounds with the academic enrichment, social support and life skills needed to succeed in college and their careers. College Bound has been a United Way funded agency since 2014.