U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th) greet students at Austin's Third Unitarian Church on May 22. The church gave away ,000 scholarships to 17 deserving Austin high school graduates. | AustinTalks

Austin’s Third Unitarian Church celebrated its 42nd annual college scholarship giveaway Sunday.

Seventeen high school seniors from the West Side this year each received $1,000 from donors who were also on hand during church services to honor the winners.

Minister Rev. Jennifer Nordstrom, who officiated the morning ceremony, praised the graduating seniors for their hard work and thanked donors for supporting them.

Award recipient Jaliyah Henderson, a senior from Providence St. Mel, told AustinTalks this was the first scholarship she’s received outside of school.

“I was really excited,” Henderson said upon learning she was recipient.
She’s planning to attend Bradley University in Peoria to study business, something she was inspired to do by her father.

“My dad, he owns a small business, and seeing how he works every day, I look at it and I see things I can do by helping him out. I found a love for it,” said Henderson, who’s the second oldest of eight kids, four boys and four girls.

Henderson said the scholarships are an example of youth doing something positive in their community.

“I want them to see that it’s not all bad. Everyone thinks it’s all bad,” she said. “This is a great opportunity in our neighborhood. But if it’s not shown and showcased to people, they don’t realize there are so many things they can do to become successful.”

Her mom, Kimberly Gibson, said she was excited for and proud of her daughter. Gibson, a Chicago Public Schools teacher, said the scholarship is about the community coming together to support education. With the state going through an education funding crisis, Gibson said the scholarship is a big help to parents.

“It’s providing resources to students in need,” she said. “It helps drastically because I’m the parent of eight children. So this helps me out, and not only my child but other families.”

Over the last four decades, about 600 students have received scholarships, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a 2015 AustinTalks story. Last year, a record 24 students were awarded scholarships, AustinTalks reported.

Last weekend’s scholarship ceremony included some former recipients who returned for the first time to help plan this year’s ceremony.

Jacquie Johnson received the scholarship in 1985, when the award was $500.
A graduate of Austin High School, Johnson worked on this year’s program for the first time and hopes to do so for many more years. She was recruited to join TUC’s scholarship committee by her former high school principal Earl Williams, who also attended Sunday’s ceremony.

“He was like, ‘I need for you to come work for this committee. And I was like, ‘It’s done.’ There was no question about it,” Johnson said.

About a 100 people attended last weekend’s ceremony. Donald Wheat, minister emeritus, received a special award for launching the scholarship in 1974. Student recipients are selected based on their academic record, community service work and financial need.

Here are all of this year's winners and their high school:

  • Aaliyah Strickland – Westinghouse
  • Semmie Thomas – VOISE Academy
  • Sammie Thomas – VOISE Academy
  • Akia Jones – Frederick Douglass
  • Chakiyah Nelson – Frederick Douglass
  • Jazmine Lewis – Frederick Douglass
  • Nathaniel Gasaway – Providence St Mel
  • Jaliyah Henderson – Providence St. Mel
  • Lafrice Cook – Providence St. Mel
  • Desmaria Landgord – Steinmetz
  • Gabrielle Winton – Michele Clark
  • Kasen Pierce – Providence St. Mel
  • Jasmine Smyles – Prosser
  • Michelle Bryant – Kelvyn Park
  • Kyla Whaley – ASA
  • Darian Hill – Kelvyn Park
  • Daijah Seanior – Wells