In the early 1800s, a successful businessman watched as young homeless girls roamed the docks of Baltimore, selling items to survive. He thought that if they just had an education, that could make all of the difference. So he began planning for a school.
When the Samuel Ready School for Female Orphans closed its doors in 1977, a scholarship foundation took its place, and in the past 20 years, it has given $10 million in financial assistance to about 250 young girls in the Baltimore area so that they can complete middle and high school at one of six prestigious independent schools.
This year, more than 30 girls facing some kind of financial or familial hardship were awarded four-year Samuel Ready Scholarships, valued at a combined $640,000. Girls can attend the Bryn Mawr School, Friends School, Garrison Forest School, Institute of Notre Dame, Roland Park Country School or St. Paul's School for Girls.
"It's like the best-kept secret in Baltimore, and we don't want it to be," said Natalie Sherman, president of the Samuel Ready Scholarships board of trustees.
"The ability for us to offer opportunities to girls who have really strong academic promise but are in very difficult economic and sometimes familial situations is a real gift. It makes us want to give more scholarships, and as many as we can."
Girls who have received scholarships say the experience changed their lives.
Isis Cabassa, 16, a junior at Bryn Mawr, said she wanted to attend the school because of the opportunities it offered, such as participating in summer programs at the Johns Hopkins University and in conferences across the country.
She said attending Bryn Mawr has "has taught me to stand up for myself and stand up for things that I believe in."
Without her scholarship, which paid for expenses ranging from a laptop to her travel, she wouldn't have been able to take advantage of everything at her disposal, she said.
"Just going to the school is one thing, and that's an amazing thing, but being able to take advantage of the opportunities that school has to offer — which is the point of my going in the first place — wouldn't have happened," Cabassa said.
Bryn Mawr graduate Shelby Prettiman, 18, said that although she wanted to follow in her father's footsteps and join the military, she doesn't think she would have had the drive to do it without the scholarship.
Now Prettiman, who entered the Naval Academy this year, feels she's not only prepared but also committed.
"Bryn Mawr teaches its girls to be strong women, and that they're capable of more than what society and television tells them they should be," she said. "I've always wanted to make a change in the world around me. I want to be a leader in the world, and being an officer in the Navy is the best training I can get to be a world leader.
"If it weren't for Samuel Ready, I wouldn't have been able to go to Bryn Mawr. If I didn't go to Bryn Mawr, I wouldn't be at the Naval Academy."
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