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Stevenson grad gives back to hometown

As a recent graduate from Stevenson University on May 9, Baltimore City native Wayne Cole knows the value of education. As the product of a single-parent, limited income home, he also appreciates the value of a dollar. That's why he decided to start the Wayne Cole Scholars Scholarship Fund for students like himself, who have a desire to attend higher education but lack the financial means to do so without aid.

"That's a big reason why I wanted to start one, because I know how important it is to get an education, and funds are limited, so I wanted to make it easier for every kid back home to follow me," he said.

Through the scholarship fund, a monetary award would be given to one male and one female student who live and attend a high school in Baltimore City. The money awarded would then be applicable to any four-year university in the country.

"[The scholarship is] going to be a balance of academics and extracurricular community service," he said. "Minimum GPA of 2.8, an essay 250-500 words, and they have to answer the question 'this scholarship will help me help the community by...'"

In addition, the students will have to provide two letters of recommendation; one from a teacher and the other from an unrelated individual.

Though the fund is still in its early stages, Cole has already received support from numerous individuals, some of whom have offered their expertise and services, and others who have contributed money for the eventual award.

"The president of the school [Stevenson University] is a donor, Angel McCoughtry - she's in the WNBA - she's a donor, D.J. Bryant of the Baltimore Ravens ... people from my church and the community, people from my school," he said.

Starting the scholarship is just one of the many ways Cole has, and continues to, give back to the community. For him, making a difference just means doing his part to carry on the family legacy.

"I come from a family of helpers," he said. "My grandmother works at an elementary school helping kids. After school, they come to her rec center and she watches them until their parents get off. My grandfather worked at inner cities teaching basketball ... so I guess it trickled down to me. It's very rewarding. That's why my major is human services. I like to service humans, give a helping hand, that's what keeps me motivated, helping others."

Seeing his mother's financial struggles was also motivation for him to get involved in community service. He began volunteering at a young age, working for a variety of causes, from feeding the homeless to working with children in after-school programs.

His mother, Cecelia "Ladybug" Cole, can remember numerous instances throughout his life when he performed random acts of kindness.

"I love the fact [that he does community service], he's been doing this since the age of 13, 14," she said. "He actually surprised me one day: we went to Lexington Market, and this random guy came up to us and asked for some change, and Wayne said 'I can do you one better, how about I buy you a meal?'"

As a high school student, Cole was well aware of the financial burden attending college would place on his mother, but he had no idea that his dedication to helping the community would end up giving him the means to attend a place of higher education.

"I wasn't expecting [to get scholarships out of volunteering]," he said. "I guess it comes down to you never know who's watching you - you never know how you make an impact. I feel like if you give, others give back to you, but I definitely didn't expect it."

Though Cole applied for some scholarships, many were offered to him unsolicited. The combination of scholarships including the Pete Rawlings Scholarship, Francis Merrick Scholarship and Baltimore City College High School Community Service Award, various grants, and compensation received through working as an RA senior year, accounted for 85 percent of his college bills.

Cole's appreciation for the scholarships he received combined with his desire to help other young people in Baltimore go to college motivated him to create the Wayne Cole Scholars Scholarship Fund.

Cassandra Bridges-Jones, director of Academic Advising at Stevenson University and coordinator of the "First Generation College Student Initiative," has known Cole for two years. During his work with her both as an intern and peer mentor and facilitator for the First Generation program, she has seen his work ethic and dedication to helping young people.

"He's very giving and wants to help others reach their goals and reach their dreams and that is the reason he is so successful working with me and working with students," she said. "He wants to see students do well, and he also wants them to give back as well, to go and help someone else. So it's almost like a 'pay it forward' type of thing. I guess that's his motto: 'pay it forward,' because that's what he's doing."

Cole's work with Bridges-Jones inspired him to ask her to be a member of his scholarship board, a request she couldn't turn down.

"I think it was probably just my connection and my experience in working with high school students in the admissions process so I think that's probably what sparked his interest in having me work with the scholarship," she said.

Cole, who has personally donated to the fund, plans to continue to raise money while working toward making it a recognized scholarship organization. His goal is to have everything finished in order to award the first scholarships in the spring of 2015.

His mother said she is both proud and inspired by her son's efforts, both with the fund and in the community.

"I'm humbly proud of him to be wanting to do this and even to be a community activist and want to go out and do the things that people don't even know he's doing," she said.

As of now, Cole's schedule is largely booked. In addition to working on the fund, he recently accepted a position as a speaker with Campus Outreach, through which he will travel to schools across the country and lecture young people about the importance of education and staying on the right path.

Seeing his dedication to the greater community has caused many to ask him if he has any plans to become a politician. But for Cole - at least for now - helping the community is his main focus.

"Right now I just want to be a positive change in the community, and I don't need a title for that," he said. "I just want to be regular Wayne and make a difference."

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