Julani Ghana in happier times in front of the College Access Center. Now he and others on Harrah’s Scholarship Committ are “heartbroken and disappointed.” Spirit file photo.

Julani Ghana in happier times in front of the College Access Center. Now he and others on Harrah’s Scholarship Committ are “heartbroken and disappointed.” Spirit file photo.

It was confirmed last Friday that what had been an annual $100,000 boost to area students’ educational hopes – the Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack Scholarship — would not be available this year.

The news was delivered to Julani Ghana, director of the College Access Center of Delaware County (CACDC) in an email. As a member of the Harrah’s Scholarship Committee, Ghana said he inquired about the availability of the scholarship due to growing inquiries from prospective students only to receive the bad news in an email from United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (UWGPSNJ,) the fund’s fiscal manager.

“Harrah’s decided against funding the scholarship this year,” responded Omar Shaw, of UWGPSNJ, in an email to Ghana that he provided to The Spirit. “I’ve been letting those that inquired know that there won’t be a scholarship for the 2014-2015 academic year and that I will contact them if I come across any other opportunities.”

United Way was the acting fiscal manger of the scholarship and officials there had gotten the final word on the scholarship program last week. The CACDC was part of the Selection Committee. Ghana said the news was devastating and he is concerned about current sophomores and juniors in college as scholarship recipients who were expecting to continue utilizing the scholarship to cover any “gaps” in financing their college tuition in the coming year.

“I just felt like you’ve got to let people know because kids are currently in school that have been recipients of the award every year; it’s one of those ‘gap scholarships,’” explained Ghana. “If they’ve got $2,000 remaining, we look at their need and try to fill that gap. For those who have done well academically, they’ve got one semester or one year to go, it could impact them in a way we’re not happy about because we know they’re so close. If we’re going to fund somebody, let’s make sure we get them (graduated).”

It is not entirely clear if funds will be unavailable indefinitely or that the program has been officially eliminated. The program was established in 2008 to provide “financial assistance to outstanding college-bound residents of the City of Chester, Pennsylvania who may not have the economic advantage to pursue a college education.”

Deadline for the scholarship was typically set in late April. The Spirit reached out to Harrah’s, but received no reply by press time. Last year, the award was significantly reduced to about $50,000 but this year it is no longer available.

“It’s definitely disheartening to hear they’re eliminating a program that has been so beneficial and a blessing to so many inner city youth who have gone onto college that received the scholarship,” said Larif Hamm, Chester’s director of purchasing. “Some of my peers have also received the scholarship; have been able to finish their degree and also work in the profession that they went to school for.”

Hamm’s own college career was partially supported by the scholarship. He has become an example of success when students are given added support for education. He currently works for Chester City and is completing his master’s degree in business at West Chester University in December.

“It (scholarship) allowed me to not be in the negative and be able to cover my tuition costs so it definitely was a plus during my undergrad at Temple,” said Hamm.

Cynthia Jetter, director of Community Partnerships and Planning at Swarthmore College and a member of Harrah’s Scholarship Committee, believes the scholarship was exactly what students needed, so it hurts to see it end.

“I’m heartbroken by it and our entire committee is really saddened by it,” said Jetter. “The scholarship was so perfect. It was what they needed.”

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