When some think of a home, an apartment might not be what comes to mind. But the Oak Park Residence Corporation, the nonprofit that owns many apartment buildings in Oak Park, is working to change that perception and give their residents opportunities for continued success. That is especially true for student tenants thanks to the ResCorp Resident High School Graduate Scholarship, which is awarded each year to two students.
The scholarship program began three years ago when Wayne Pierce, chair of the board of the Oak Park Residence Corporation, had the idea to provide an opportunity for children of tenants to receive a scholarship for their education expenses following high school.
Nancy Leavy, a ResCorp board member, along with other members began identifying families who had children between the ages of 16 and 19 to provide information about the scholarship.
“It was a wonderful experience and I think it helped deepen the understanding of the board regarding some of our applicants,” said Leavy, a former District 200 school board member.
A takeaway from building the relationships between the board and tenants was the realization that many had lived in the buildings for the entire length of their children’s academic careers in Oak Park, oftentimes choosing to relocate to ensure their children could attend Oak Park school districts.
“These are not transitory residents,” Leavy said. “We have many who are raising a family and they have applied for our scholarship, who have been long term tenants in our building.”
The idea of honoring their graduating students provides a small look into how ResCorp hopes to continue to boost the morale of their tenants and instill that their apartment buildings are a home just like any single-family home in Oak Park. ResCorp, which owns and manages many multi-family buildings, also helps provide affordable housing, with each building having at least 20 percent of housing choice voucher occupants in partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“People think of Oak Park and think ‘we are all homeowners,’ but no, half of us live in apartments,” said Leavy.
This year’s recipients were Oak Park and River Forest High School students Cimya Love and Saadiq Muhammad, who each received $2,000 from ResCorp for their post-secondary educational expenses.
Love, 17, a recent graduate of OPRF, said she was thrilled to be one of the recipients of this year’s scholarship. Love found out about the scholarship during her junior year through her mom, who saw it posted on a flier.
“My mom wanted me to keep it in mind, like ‘oh this apartment offers scholarships, maybe we can keep it in mind for next year,’ and that is exactly what I did,” Love said, adding she applied as soon as she could when she became a senior.
Love and her mom moved to Oak Park in December 2022 from the Austin neighborhood, making her mom’s dream of moving back to Oak Park a reality.
“It is a quiet neighborhood,” Love said, adding she appreciates its close proximity to OPRF, which allows her to walk or ride her bike. “I can also walk my dog, feeling safe.”
For Love, being a recipient of a scholarship meant a lot as she said she was worried about how to financially pay for college.
“Wanting to go to college, I didn’t know how much it actually cost,” Love said. “This scholarship can go towards my college needs or anything school wise, so I am very grateful.”
Love will be attending the University of Illinois Chicago and will be majoring in business.
Muhammad plans to study engineering at the University of Cincinnati, according to the press release by OPRC.
Scholarships are also renewable as long as the student remains in good standing with their school.
“It does not require any grade point average but they do have to stay off of academic probation,” Leavy said. “So far, our two previous year recipients have all been able to renew their scholarships. It makes it something that they can count on.”
The scholarship has also raised morale amongst tenants, who join in celebrating the recipients each year as ResCorp publicizes the names of the recipients.
“It has been positive for, we think, the whole climate in the building,” Leavy said.
To help students whose plans do not include a traditional four-year college, Leavy said the scholarship can also be applied to trade schools, adding a past recipient is currently using their scholarship at Triton College.
“If somebody wanted to go to culinary arts at Triton … it still costs money to go to Triton,” Leavy said. “I am so proud of all these kids and we are so happy to have been able to help them. Whether they go to state school or a trade school, we have a student who applied to go to a historically black college, we help them.”