Thursday, May 1, 2008

Group raises college funds for teens

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Courtesy of Andre Gist Foundation
Andre Gist Memorial Foundation founder Kevin Chase (right) congratulates Janay Johnson (left) and Freddie Velez, past recipients of scholarships.
When Kevin Chase played football at Oxon Hill High School in the 1970s, Andre Gist was right by his side.

‘‘Andre played center, so he had kind of been right at my hip since seventh grade,” said Chase, founder of the Andre Gist Foundation.

‘‘Big Gist,” as he was known at the time, graduated from high school and attended the University of West Virginia. After graduating from college, he accomplished his dream of playing professional football when he joined the Tampa Bay Bandits in the U.S. Football League. Less than a year later, in 1983, he died in a car accident.

In 2003, Chase launched the foundation to keep his friend’s memory alive and give other students a chance to achieve their own goals.

‘‘When I was looking for ways to give back, I discussed the idea with my friend Brett Pulley, and he said, ‘Why don’t we do something in the name of Big Gist?’”

On May 17, the foundation has scheduled its black-tie evening of entertainment and dining to raise money for its scholarship fund.

Chase, who lives in Temple Hills, launched the scholarship fund because, ‘‘I was seeing youth in the surrounding area coming out of high school with good grades but no financial resources to further their education.”

The fund supports students who plan to attend historically black colleges and universities. Chase attended the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, and served as a systems accountant at Howard University.

Five area youth have received scholarships from the foundation. Freddie Velez, the first recipient, attended the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, as a biology major and is now a graduate student preparing for a career as a physical therapist. Ronnie Washington, a sophomore finance major at Morehouse College, recently won a paid internship with Lehman Brothers that included a $7,500 stipend toward his education.

Adelanke Akinrinmade, who took college courses while in high school and attends classes practically year-round, will finish Morgan State University in three years. She may study obstetrics⁄gynecology at Howard University’s medical school to reach her goal of opening a teen pregnancy clinic.

The recipients must maintain a 3.0 grade point average in college to retain their scholarship.

‘‘We tell them, ‘We’ve committed to you for four years; now commit to us,’’ Chase said. ‘‘We need the students to finish. Once they’re done, they don’t have to work for the foundation, but they do have to give back because someone gave to them.”

Participants who attend the gala leave the event with a new respect for area teens, Chase said.

People attend to hear board member Kevon Edmonds from the group After 7, but when we introduce the kids and the participants see where their money is going – that all the proceeds go to kids attending HBCUs – people let me know they’re here to support the foundation.”

Andre Gist’s mother, Geraldine Harris, is an honored guest each year.

‘‘She was a second mom,” Chase said. ‘‘Every time I see her she is so appreciative.”

Board member Karen Clark noted that Chase makes sure Gist’s mom receives VIP treatment, including transportation to the gala in a limo.

‘‘He also calls to see if she needs anything,” Clark said. ‘‘It’s a comfort to her that people loved her son so much and remember him.”

Chase, who doesn’t have children, hopes that others will join him in supporting area youth and helping them reach their highest potential.

‘‘We always talk about our kids being the lost generation, but no one is going to help us but our own,” Chase said. ‘‘If we all help, we can make our own way. Why can’t we raise money and invest in our youth? We might have another Barak Obama here, because I guarantee we are going to hear good things from these kids.”

Kevin Chase

How he makes a difference: Chase is the founder of the Andre Gist Memorial Foundation, which helps college-bound students meet their expenses for tuition and books. The foundation has scheduled a black-tie gala on May 17 to raise money for the scholarship fund. For information about the event or about supporting the foundation, call 301-442-1246 or visit www.gistfoundation.org.