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Place of Residence: Los Angeles, Calif.
Why He’s a Game Changer: Ward, whose family faced homelessness, was able to crowd source the $12,000 he needed to attend Howard University this fall.
Ward, 19, and his family have dealt with homelessness for four years, bouncing between shelters and the street in L.A.’s Skid Row. Jessica Sutherland, (pictured with Ward below) a digital media producer who had also been homeless as a child, found out that Ward had been accepted to Howard and had received scholarships but still need $12,000 to cover costs for a full year.
A tightening of the guidelines to Parent PLUS loans have hurt students at many historically black colleges and universities. Ward’s loan was denied three weeks before he was set to leave for Howard.
Sutherland set up a site, Homeless to Howard, to raise money from Ward and, with endorsements from celebrities like Common, the money began pouring in.
“It’s surreal. I can’t believe after everything that’s happened I’m going to be leaving to attend Howard,” Ward told The Huffington Post last fall.
Sutherland says they have received $77,000 in cash, enough to replace all four years of PLUS loans. J.C. Penney donated $25,000 in cash and $10,000 in gift cards through the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier earmarked $10,000 for Ward as part of a larger donation to the Union Rescue Mission where Ward and his family once lived.
“I would’ve never thought that something we started just a couple of days ago would’ve turned out to become this massive,” Ward said. “However, it makes me feel very happy because I know that although the world may seem like a harsh and cold place, there are some people out there that care and want to give to those in need.”
Although Ward has attended three high schools in four years he was able to keep up his grades while serving as a role model for his younger siblings.
Sutherland simply couldn’t stand to see all of that potential go to waste.
“James is an amazing kid that has persevered,” she says. “And despite it all, he only sees the positive of it.”
Sutherland understands Ward’s scenario because she was once in the same situation.
“I got my first period in a homeless shelter. I had Christmas in a homeless shelter,” said Sutherland. “I know what it’s like to live in a homeless shelter at such a self-conscious age when you’re going through so much.”
Now Sutherland is mentoring Ward and hopes to use the site to help other young, deserving people reach their goals as president of the HomelessTo Foundation.
Ward has lofty ambitions to become a genetic engineer or astrophysicist. Another equally great ambition is the desire to help his family.
“[I'm] following my dreams,” Ward said, “but it was never about me. It was always about my younger brother and sister learning that education is what they need, because as long as you have knowledge, no one can ever take it from you.”