The Joan T. Hairston Scholarship Fund, administered by the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation in Charleston, will offer college assistance to low-income minority graduates of Logan High School.
During her career with AFSC, Hairston championed many causes – helping women get coal mining jobs, establishing an annual celebration of black history and culture, leading the campaign for a new Logan County public library, addressing health care issues and advocating for those who couldn’t speak for themselves. But the cause that was dearest to her heart was the mentoring group she created for female African-American high school students.
“Through that mentoring group, she nurtured a generation of young African-American women in Logan County, and she passed on to them the message that education is the key to a better future,” said Beth Spence, acting area director of AFSC’s Appalachian Center for Equality, formerly New Empowerment for Women Plus. “She convinced them that they can be successful adults, and they believed her because she believed in them. They trusted her with the problems they encountered during their sometimes difficult journeys into adulthood, and she always was there for them.”
The mentoring group began during the 1995-96 school year when the principal of Logan High asked Hairston to talk with some of the African-American female students because the school had no female African-American teachers or guidance counselors. The principal felt that Hairston, as a successful African-American woman, might be able to help. The meeting started a long and successful partnership between the American Friends Service Committee and Logan High School.
As Hairston remembered her first meeting with the students, “They felt left out of school life,” she said. “They were and are a very small minority, and when they looked around, they didn’t see anyone who looked like them. Most of their parents had at best a high school diploma, and they didn’t envision education past high school.”
Hairston began meeting weekly with the students – between ten and 15, each year. She connected them with tutors, introduced them to successful role models and took them to visit colleges and universities.
Once each school year, Hairston took the students on a three-day trip to a historically black college or university. During the trip, the young women gained life skills by staying in hotels and eating at restaurants where some for the first time ordered from a menu. The students had the opportunity to contribute to enrichment projects, such as a “Welcome to My World” photography book and exhibit and a collection of oral history, “Remembering from Back Then: Stories of Our Grandmothers.”
The results have been nothing short of remarkable – over the lifetime of the program, every students who participated throughout high school earned a diploma. Eighty percent continued their education past high school either at a college or university or a trade school. None of the participants has become pregnant while in the program. Mentoring group members are currently enrolled in West Virginia State University, Marshall University and Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College. One alumna of the mentoring group graduated cum laude from the prestigious Spelman College in Atlanta.
You may send contributions to the Joan T. Hairston Scholarship Fund to the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, 1600 Huntington Square, 900 Lee Street East, Charleston, WV 25302. Please note “Joan T. Hairston Scholarship Fund” in the memo line.