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Undocumented student scholarship program expands beyond Charlotte to nation

Red Ventures has decided to end a sales training program that it launched this year, a move that affects 67 workers. Red Ventures started the two-year Sales Associate Program in January.
Red Ventures has decided to end a sales training program that it launched this year, a move that affects 67 workers. Red Ventures started the two-year Sales Associate Program in January. Observer file photo

The Golden Door Scholars program started in Charlotte by Red Ventures CEO Ric Elias is expanding this year to help high-performing undocumented immigrant students nationwide get money for college.

Scholarships will go to 50 undocumented students this fall, organizers said. The deadline to apply is Oct. 3 and details are available via www.goldendoorscholars.org. Applications will be accepted beginning Thursday.

Kacey Grantham, executive director of Golden Door Scholars, says the program expanded last year to include students from nine states in the Southeast and is going national this year because “we keep receiving applications from students nationwide who need support.”

The program has awarded 92 scholarships since launching five years ago, with the students attending colleges across the country. In each case, the students were brought to the United States as children by parents who are not legally in the country. None can afford to attend college, due to existing federal and state financial aid laws.

Eight of the program’s scholarship students recently graduated and moved on to promising careers at companies like Samsung and Oracle, said Grantham, executive director of Golden Door Scholars.

“Not only have 98 percent of our scholars stayed in school and averaged a 3.6 GPA, but each of our graduates had a job offer upon graduation,” Grantham said in a statement.

“We put a real emphasis on career development and paying it forward, so their professional success and desire to help others who follow in their footsteps has inspired us to continue expanding this year.”

The Golden Door program was created by Ric Elias, co-founder of the Red Ventures Internet marketing firm in Fort Mill. Elias supplied much of the money in the first few years, and leveraged his cash by partnering with colleges and universities that are willing to admit undocumented students.

“There is no better investment than our scholars and we have an absolute responsibility to give them a path to contribute to society,” Elias said in a statement.

Elias’ unveiling of the program drew interest from across the country in 2012, despite the fact that it was intended for local students.

Golden Door reports 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school each year in the U.S. and 30 percent live below the poverty level. None of them qualify for federal financial aid due to their lack of citizenship status.

However, President Barack Obama’s 2012 Executive Order, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), gives such students temporary work authorization and relief from deportation. Currently, 23 states require them to pay out of state college tuition rates, said Golden Door officials.

Among the students holding Golden Door scholarships is Wake Forest University sophomore Katherine Juarez, who says the upcoming presidential election is adding to the uncertainty faced undocumented immigrants as they plan a future.

“It’s tough not knowing what this upcoming election will bring for me and my family, but seeing other Golden Door scholars graduate inspires me to stay focused,” Juarez said in a statement. “I would not be in college without Golden Door’s financial support, but the mentorship and career guidance is just as important.”

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