Homeroom Humboldt Senior High School / Beating poverty, betting on future
By Brandon Ferdig
02/15/2010 1:30 PM
Dionne Griffin has turned his difficult past into his future's biggest asset.
A senior at St. Paul's Humboldt Senior High School, he has won a $20,000 Horatio Alger Foundation national scholarship. Chosen from more than 1,100 Minnesotans who applied, Griffin impressed with his frank description of how his family has worked to overcome poverty.
He wanted people to know "how motivated I am, how serious about the future I am," Griffin said.
The second of seven children, Griffin's early years were spent in Chicago. At age 12 his parents separated. Money was hard to come by and the family lost their home.
His father relocated to Minnesota in hopes of finding work, but the family still struggled.
Griffin recalls a summer where they had no home. He was 16 years old, sitting outside a gas station, considering stealing a meal.
"Being in the mentality of having nothing, it eats at you," he said. He opted not to resort to theft.
He wrote about that moment for the essay that helped land him his scholarship.
A stranger's generosity inspired him.
Walking along one day and looking for money, Griffin slouched down at the side of the street and began to cry.
"I was trying to talk to God and was praying," he said.
A woman who was driving by saw Griffin weeping, stopped her car and walked up to him. She told him, "God bless" and handed him $5.
"To me, that was God speaking to me directly: 'You'll be okay,' " Griffin said.
The ambition to
change his life grew that summer, he said. Griffin started his own lawn mowing business.
His family eventually was able to get an apartment of their own. His father now works for a local banking company. And Griffin is planning for college.
"I turned my poverty into something positive," Griffin said.
This past spring he was accepted into Genesys Works, a nonprofit program that finds students jobs working with computers.
"If you're going to take the cream of the crop for your
program, you're going to grab Dionne Griffin," said Mike Sodomka, Humboldt principal.
Griffin now works fixing computers for Ecolab after school. He recognizes the benefits of becoming familiar with computers, working in a professional environment and making new connections. Genesys Works is also preparing him for college. The program introduces students to scholarship opportunities, including the Horatio Alger award.
The scholarship committee recognizes those who "have overcome adversity and life challenges while excelling in academics and contributing to their community."
Excited about the chance to visit Washington, D.C., in April for a student leadership conference as part of the scholarship, Griffin also wants to leave an impression with the people who chose him for the award.
"I can't wait to meet them, to show them their investment wasn't made in vain," he said.
Griffin is an "amazing young man," said Jeff Tollefson, director of Genesys Works in St. Paul.
Griffin plans to enroll at either the University of Minnesota or the University of St. Thomas as a finance major.
One other Minnesotan was awarded the Horatio Alger national scholarship: Margaret Nietfeld, of Minneapolis, attends the Interlochen Arts Academy in Minneapolis.
Brandon Ferdig can be reached at 651-228-5480.
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