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Teen becomes first member in her family to attend college

LINK Unlimited Scholar Kierra Harris (left) and her mentor Melanie Lacy have both benefitted from the mentor-mentee relationship they've shared for four years.Provided photo.

Kierra Harris will be the first in her family to attend college. She plans to attend Washington University in St. Louis next fall.

The 17-year-old South Holland honor roll student credits her mentor and a non-profit South Loop-based organization for helping her dream come true next fall.

“It’s been really useful throughout high school to have the additional guidance of someone else who has been through all of this before,” said Harris of her mentor, Melanie Lacy. “I’m normally really quiet and she’s helped me to speak up more and taught me to strive for the best.”

Harris belongs to Chicago’s LINK Unlimited Scholars, a half-century old organization that has helped mentor nearly 2,000 economically disadvantaged African-American youths.

During the last 14 years, every graduate of the program has been admitted to selective colleges and universities, LINK officials said.

The program provides scholarships to help youngsters attend private high schools and matches them with mentors throughout high school.

Harris attends Seton Academy in South Holland.

“You can give a student a scholarship to attend a high school that’s a better match for their abilities, but without the larger perspective and wider lens that a mentor can offer they might not reach their full potential or explore their broadest range of options,” said Margie Morris, LINK director of mentor recruitment and relations.

Lacy, a financial services professional, has been working with Harris for four years.

Harris, who was accepted into many colleges, fell in love with Washington University on a LINK-sponsored summer trip.

“Academically she is through the roof,” Lacy said. “She is a solid, focused student who has gained more confidence and grown in her decision-making ability, and I am really proud of that.”

For more information on the LINK program, visit http://linkunlimited.org/web/ or contact mmorris@linkunlimited.org.

This is one in a series of articles being produced though a partnership between the Chicago Sun-Times and the Illinois Mentoring Partnership.

Susan White, the author of the story, is a free-lance writer who is a volunteer mentor with LINK.