Teen paints way to college
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Risha Hill is back at Spelman College.
The Bridgeport teen who tried to paint her way back to Spelman for her sophomore year this summer ended up with 64 heroes who heard about her plight and either bought some of her artwork or made donations ranging from $5 to more than $3,500.
Hill, 18, spent the summer painting and her family turned their modest Manila Place house into an art gallery to earn cash for tuition to allow her to return to what she called her dream school.
The effort paid off. She sold 16 of her paintings and raised more than she needed to return to college.
“Right now, I don’t owe anything,” Hill said by phone. “It’s great. I’m really ecstatic.”
A 2012 Harding High School graduate, Hill made it to Spelman, one of the nation’s historically black colleges, with good grades and hard work. Freshman year at the college in Atlanta, however, proved tough and getting new scholarships and financial aid was an uphill battle.
She decided art was her best shot at earning the money she needed to return. Some of the art sold, but by mid-August, Hill conceded she was far from raising enough to return to school.
Once her plight went public with a story in the Connecticut Post, Hill said she received more than 100 phone calls and emails offering assistance or leads to scholarships.
One who reached out was Robin Altman, a program director for Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship, a Westchester and Fairfield County program that Hill had participated in during her sophomore year at Harding High School. Hill created an award-winning business plan as part of that program and the money she won helped her pay her way to Spelman in her freshman year.
Altman put Hill in touch with Bernard Klein Wassick, a principal in the financial services division of Ernst & Young. Wassick is a member of the entrepreneur group’s board.
“He immediately reached out,” said Hill. “He also hooked me up with a few other people who were willing to help. I am so excited and happy.”
Wassick said six people in all, a group of fellow board members, plus partners at Ernst & Young, stepped forward to help.
“Risha was runner-up in our NFTE regional business plan competition,” said Wassick. “Based on that, three NFTE board members helped Risha not just with money, but by showing the Spelman administration that Risha had strong support from the community.”
Teresa Wilson, executive director of the Village Initiative Project, a college preparatory program in Bridgeport that introduced Hill to Spelman, said Hill deserved to stay at the college.
“I don’t know Mr. Wassick, but I am glad that they helped her,” Wilson said. “She did great.”
She hopes the situation will be a launching pad to finding ways to support other deserving students for post-secondary college experiences.
Before the semester began, Teresa Gay, interim director of financial aid at Spelman called Hill’s efforts to raise funds unique.
“We do encourage students to be entrepreneurs,” Gay said. “She is just exercising what she learned at Spelman.” She also said the college is in a continuous battle to assist students in the scholarship process.
Hill returned to Spelman on Wednesday, a week after classes began, and as of Friday had raised a total of $8,545, more than the $5,000 she said Spelman told her she needed to return. Along with grants, loans and institutional aid, Hill is set for now. She has been offered a work-study assignment, meal plan and has her book expenses covered.
Included in her total funds was $1,345 she raised from 21 people in nine days on the crowdfunding site GoFund Me.com.
She sold 16 of her paintings, including a portrait of President Obama that the Rev. Kenneth Moales Jr., who is also chairman of the school board, bought for $500.
The money shortage was a learning experience. Hill said she is already starting the application process for scholarships for future semesters, even as she takes a full load of classes.
PHOTO: In this photo taken Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, Risha Hill, 18, poses in her Bridgeport, Conn., home. Hill produced 24 pieces of art in the month of July in hopes of selling them and earning money toward her sophomore tuition at Spelman College in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Connecticut Post, B.K. Angeletti)