Scholarship Spotlight: SVCF scholarship recipient helps San Mateo County inmates overcome addiction

“Addiction is a disease and I want to help with prevention,” says Amelia*, a single mother who is currently in graduate school at Stanford University studying Community Health and Prevention Research within the School of Medicine. 

In 2018, Amelia received the Harold Johnson Law Enforcement Scholarship from Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which supported her undergraduate education at University of San Francisco. A year later she was also awarded the SVCF-managed Deblinger Family Scholarship, a renewable scholarship for low-income single mothers, which is now going toward her graduate studies.

Amelia applied for the Harold Johnson scholarship because of her experience volunteering with adult female inmates and youth in juvenile hall for four years at Redwood City’s Maple Street Correctional Center. Her personal history with substance abuse drew her to the county jail, where a friend invited her to volunteer a few times a week. During her first visit as a volunteer, she shared her personal story of overcoming drug-addiction and saw how positively the women responded. “I don’t see myself ever stopping volunteering there,” she said. “They identified with my story and saw that I could change. I want to give them hope that they can change too, that they’re not stuck in this life.”

The two SVCF scholarships she received were crucial in making her education possible. “As a single mom who started out attending community college, I was determined to find scholarships. The SVCF website was user-friendly and it was easy to find and apply for scholarships,” she said. "I’m grateful that the scholarship committee saw value in my work."

Amelia grew up in Monterey County, but came to Silicon Valley around age 19 when she was dealing with homelessness and drug addiction. “I lost a lot of my life,” she said, “But in 2011 I found out I was pregnant and checked myself into rehab. I've been clean for more than eight years. San Mateo county resources helped me get back on my feet and I'm excited to be able to give back to the county."

"I’ve been clean for more than eight years. San Mateo County resources helped me get back on my feet and I’m excited to be able to give back to the county.”

After volunteering at the jail regularly for about a year, the staff offered Amelia a block of time and invited to her to teach a health-focused curriculum she created based on research. Her lessons, some of which are inspired by her graduate studies at Stanford, focus on growth mindset, behavior change, health and wellness, forgiveness, setting boundaries, the importance of higher education and more. “I’m immediately using what I learn in my graduate studies,” she said.

Career-wise, Amelia is still undecided about what she wants to do after completing her Master’s degree. She studied business as an undergraduate and currently works part-time in Human Resources at a local company. “I’m very interested in public health and I always plan to devote time to helping improve the lives of incarcerated people,” she said. “I find it very fulfilling and I’m especially interested in helping youth stay out of jail and in reducing recidivism.”

Her advice for other students going through the financial aid and scholarship search process is to treat applying for scholarships like a part time job. “Be diligent and organized. Don’t give up. Pay attention to the details,” Amelia said. “It’s so worth it in the end, not just because of the financial benefit scholarships provide but because of the encouragement from a community organization that believes in you and wants to invest.”

*Name has been changed to respect the scholarship recipient’s privacy.

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