First-generation students aim to provide others with opportunities

By Meredith Foster – mfoster@unca.edu – Staff Writer

Stephanie Watkins-Cruz, a junior on UNC Asheville’s cheer and dance team, became involved with the UNCA chapter of She’s the First through a teammate, Rebecca Wortham.

“She’s the First is a non-profit organization that raises money for the education of girls in developing countries, so that they can be the first girls in their family to go to college,” Watkins-Cruz said. “This organization is very important to me as a first-generation college student. It’s nice to be able to make a difference.”

Tammy Tibbetts created She’s the First was created four years ago. As a recent college graduate, she believed by supporting the education of young women, she could help to fight poverty in developing countries, according to the organization’s website.

“Education is such a pivotal part of the solutions to a lot of problems,” Watkins-Cruz said. “Educate a girl, and it’s proven that the GDP of a country will go up substantially more than if you continue to educate just males.”

A country’s gross domestic product is the market value of all officially-recognized final goods and services produced within a country in a given period of time.

“You do need to educate both males and females, but the more educated a girl is, the longer she’ll wait to have kids, the longer she’ll wait to start a family,” Watkins-Cruz said. “The more educated she is, the more she can teach her kids and she can start a cycle. They can learn how to take better care of themselves, how to be more financially responsible, which will in turn benefit the country, because the family is able to reinvest in it.”

Watkins-Cruz said this principle of the organization resonates with her, because the cost of her education is paid for by financial aid and scholarship funds.

“The cause itself is very near and dear to my heart, because, not on the same level, but I wouldn’t be able to pursue my dreams if it weren’t for the people who pay for my scholarship,” Watkins-Cruz said.

Watkins-Cruz became involved with  She’s the First in 2012.

“The chapter here was started by Becca Wortham, who was a member of the cheer and dance team, now a teacher at Claxton Elementary School,” Watkins-Cruz said. “She was super-motivated and basically passed her passion on to me.”

This is Watkins-Cruz’s first year as president and she said she’s already beginning to make changes.

“This year, our chapter is sponsoring two girls,” she said. “One of the girls, Rachel, from Uganda, whose scholarship we focused on last semester, needed a scholarship of $360. We ended up raising over $550.”

They raised most of the money through a bake sale, which they will be holding in conjunction with a 5K race, Watkins-Cruz said.

“This semester, we are focusing on the other girl that we sponsor, Magdelena from Tanzania,” she said. “The tuition is $1,000, and that’s where our 5K comes in.”

Partnering with UNCA’s Black Student Association, She’s the First will hold a Cupcake Classic 5K and Carnival on campus this Saturday.

“It was not a hard decision to make to know that we will be supportive and helpful for a She’s the First event,” said Nicole Barnes, co-volunteer coordinator. “Stephanie is the vice president of BSA, but we also support their organization, regardless of Stephanie’s position. We support many of She’s the First events, and the 5K sounded like another great chance to co-sponsor on a fun event for an important cause.”

Registration and check-in for the event will begin at 8:30 a.m., and the race will begin at 10:15 a.m. A carnival starting at 11:15 a.m. will immediately follow the race.

“Not only do we get support from other students on campus, but we’ve been getting support from the outside Asheville community, like small businesses,” said Samantha Valentine, a member of She’s the First. “It’s great for spreading awareness and letting others know what we do and how they can help.”

UNCA is one of many She’s the First chapters across the country that holds 5K’s in order to raise money.

“The idea of a 5K is something that all of the chapters are trying to do together,” Valentine said. “We can’t be sure how much money is going to be raised in the end, but I just hope it’s enough to meet our goal and send Magdalena to school.”

Watkins-Cruz said she hopes to use the event to continue campus and community involvement in expanding the UNCA chapter of She’s the First.

“We love our guys, but we really want to empower women,” Watkins-Cruz said.

 

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