You can see the passion in Reggie’s eyes – he’s on a mission to change someone’s life.
Reggie studies social work at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, driven by a calling to help others avoid the difficulties he experienced and find the same successes he has found. He’s also a 2019 UNO Fund scholarship recipient – one of seven promising students who received assistance thanks to hundreds of generous alumni and supporters to the UNO Fund.
Reggie grew up in Arkansas in a single-parent home with his three siblings. Looking back, he said he lacked role models in his childhood, which provided an opening for “negative peers” and “bad influences.”
“I was academically illiterate,” he said. “I was not determined to get through school. I was starting to be influenced by surroundings. They were not positive influences.”
Reggie came to Omaha in 2007 to live with his father. He attended Central High School and graduated in 2010, with plans to attend Metropolitan Community College to earn an associate degree in general education. However, life put more roadblocks in his way.
“I was at risk of being homeless in 2010 after graduating from high school,” he said. “My father was incarcerated for a short period of time, and I was living at his residence, and eventually I had to leave because I just couldn’t afford it.”
Reggie bounced around from place to place, and the stresses of not knowing if he’d have a place to sleep affected his ability to concentrate on his studies. He turned to people and organizations who could help him find stability, including Omaha’s Youth Emergency Services, which helped him gain valuable life skills, and the Goodwill Youth Partnership, which helped him pay for classes at MCC. These organizations, as well as involvement with his church, allowed him to reset and begin returning the favor. He became the first male graduate from the YES program in more than 40 years, and, later, he was invited to serve on the organization’s board of directors. In addition, he became a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and he even served as a mentor to an acquaintance with a disability who had faced life circumstances similar to his own.
“I certainly want to give back to others who are experiencing what I experienced,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m going into social work. I give God glory for it, and I’m thankful for the people who have supported me.”
Reggie eventually graduated from MCC in 2015, but by this point he had realized he was destined to serve. Through his life experiences, his faith and his volunteer work, he now knew he wanted to devote his life to giving back. His fiancée, a recent UNO graduate, suggested he look into the school’s social work program.
“She said, ‘Since you’re trying to help other people get into school, why don’t you go back to school?’” Reggie said. “I ended up seeking advice on what would be a good fit for me based on my skills and what I love to do, and someone mentioned social work. I said I’m taking that. Since I’ve been taking classes, it’s been a perfect fit for me. I’ve found my niche. I’ve found my God-given calling to serve others.”
Reggie admits he didn’t know how he was going to pay for classes, but he was determined to attend UNO, which has one of the top social work programs in the nation. That’s where the UNO Fund came in.
While there are many scholarships at UNO, the UNO Fund for Student Scholarships is the only one that sees hundreds of alumni and supporters come together and make gifts – last year as low as $5 and as high as $5,000 – to give directly back to students. Thanks to UNO Fund donors, UNO was able to offer Reggie a renewable scholarship to cover much of his tuition through his expected graduation in 2021.
“What this scholarship is doing is reducing the amount of time I put in at my job,” he said. “I’m able to focus on studying what I need to in order to be able to serve people in the community. I won’t have to work extra hours to try to accumulate enough money to pay my tuition. When people are funding me, this is where I’m able to focus on what I need to be able to grow as an individual and be able to serve people.”
He’s taking three courses this semester, in addition to working full time in security. He also makes time to continue his volunteer work, including involvement with his church and local organizations serving the homeless, elderly, immigrants and refugees.
“Though I don’t want to overload myself with things,” he said. “I want to be able to focus on grades, keeping my GPA up, but focusing on the material and retaining it, so when I get out of school I can be able to apply what I’ve learned and be able to serve others effectively.”
Reggie reiterated that none of this would be happening without the help of donors to the UNO Fund.
“I am so grateful for them giving me the opportunity to receive this scholarship,” he said. “They certainly saw the potential in me and saw I’m someone worth funding, because I’m determined to make a difference in people’s lives for the better. And I’m definitely determined. And they certainly are contributing to the work I plan on doing.”