5 CROSO Highlights of 2016

2016 has been a big year for our CROSO Scholars and for our CROSO community in the U.S. Here are some of our top highlights:

5. CROSO donors are getting involved in new ways!

With a new cohort of CROSO advocates established in Cincinnati, CROSO will be having its first event outside of the Chicago region in the new year! We’re excited about the potential this can have to expand our donor base in a completely new area!

In addition to expanding geographically, we’re also expanding our reach within Chicago by encouraging existing donors to reach out to their networks. We ended the year with a CrowdRise campaign started by two Chicago-area donors to support one specific Scholar, Stella. This is a great way to help CROSO reach out to new networks of people. Please send Molly a message if you’d like to learn more about hosting your own CrowdRise campaign to support a Scholar!

4. CROSO Visit to Uganda!

Staff member, Molly MacCready, and Board member, Sally Ryan, visited Uganda in June of this year. Their visit was filled with gathering information, maintaining (and building) relationships, and continued opportunities for us to learn better ways to support our Scholars. Returning with videos, photos and so many stories, Sally and Molly have helped donors and board members feel more connected to our Scholars in Uganda. Sally wrote a beautiful blog about how the experience changed and challenged her.

3. CROSO Scholars are spreading out around Uganda!

In 2016, our CROSO Scholars were enrolled in 12 different universities! Each of our new Scholars in 2016 chose different institutions than their fellow Scholars. As CROSO’s scholarship program continues to grow, our scholars are pursuing more diverse academic studies and seeking out the best institutions in the country. To read more about each of our Scholars, click here.

2. CROSO hired our first employee this year!

In January, 2016, Molly MacCready was hired as a Part-time Executive Director. In this first year of having an employee, CROSO has created better structures internally and externally that allow us to operate more smoothly. Internally, our committees are more functional and we’ve been able to put better procedures in place for moving issues forward. Externally, we’ve identified policies for addressing Scholar issues, have been more consistent with our monthly communication with Scholars and have made progress on engaging our donors more effectively. We are so grateful for your support as we continue to grow!

1. CROSO is building a strong graduate community!

In 2016, two CROSO Scholars graduated and another two completed their studies with graduation ceremonies planned for 2017! As our graduate numbers increase, we’re seeing a beautifully diverse community of professionals growing in Uganda. We currently have graduates employed as a vice-principal of a high school, branch manager for a micro-credit bank, electrical engineer for a solar panel company, social worker and program officer at C.R.O., and public health educator, to name a few. This group is now able to help network for our younger Scholars as they seek internships and employment. We are so proud to see our graduates finding stability for themselves.

 

 

Looking ahead to 2017

The end of 2017 will mark CROSO’s TENTH anniversary as an organization and we are excited to find ways of celebrating that with all of you! Keep an eye on our Facebook page and our monthly emails to learn more!

A Thanksgiving Reflection

Today’s blog post is written by Elsa VanHove, one of CROSO’s Board Members.

Around this time each year, I – like many people – try to step back and reflect on the things I am thankful for. Especially this year, as our country reconciles with a divisive presidential election and as I face uncertainties in my own life, I recognize the need more than ever to reflect on blessings and focus forward.

One thing I am hugely thankful for is my civic life. The relationships I have developed with CROSO volunteers have become an unexpected place to find support and belonging. The larger CROSO community continues to grow as well, and as I think back to September’s annual benefit dinner, I am so taken by the open hearts and generous spirits of our attendees and donors. It is amazing to think about the impact this group of people has on our Scholars, many of whom have felt disenfranchised in their own communities. CROSO is one source of strength for our Scholars, and that reminds us of the value in continuing this project.

I am also thankful for my own education. My university experience allowed me to travel abroad and learn of the larger world and the ways in which people are similar. CROSO allows us to share the gift of higher education with our Scholars who also place the same value on learning and self-development, though they may not have access to the same financial resources many of us did.

Education does not end with school, however, and through interaction with our Scholars I have learned about new cultures, challenges, and opportunities. I have found common ground with Scholars who also hope to travel the world someday, who want to use their education to build successful businesses, and who love reading novels, playing sports and even volunteering in their hometowns. Our Scholars lead by example, and they set the pace with their perseverance, creativity, and determination to improve not only their own lives but the lives of those in their communities.

Thank you to everyone who has participated in CROSO this year through time, money, prayers, and all the myriad of other ways. This work provides purpose both to the Scholars it helps fund and to the people who support the organization. As you reflect on your year, I hope that CROSO – and the other organizations you support – can also be counted among the things for which you are thankful.

9th Annual CROSO Benefit!

Join us on September 22nd for our 9th Annual CROSO Benefit!

This is a chance to celebrate the many achievements of our CROSO Scholars in Uganda and of our organization based in the Chicago-area. Over the past nine years, we have directly supported over 30 former street children as they have attended post-secondary institutions in Uganda! We have seen 14 of our Scholars graduate and are now getting to see the fruits of their labor as they find employment. It’s incredible to think that as a result of our scholarship program, there is a growing group of professionals who are leading their communities and are able to approach their jobs from the rare perspective of having lived on the streets as children.

As an organization, we are also proud to share our work here in the Chicago-area. This year, for the first time, we have a paid employee working part-time for CROSO! Having a dedicated staff member has allowed us to be organized, to communicate with our Scholars and partner organization more regularly and to share more stories with all of you, our donors!

We hope you will join us on the 22nd to hear stories, see photos, participate in our raffle, silent auction and paddle raise, and enjoy dinner with an amazing community of people who are supporting CROSO Scholars from afar.

Tickets must be purchased by Friday, September 16th! You can reserve them online and either pay online or pay by check. Purchase your tickets today: http://www.croso.org/events/9th-annual-croso-benefit-event/

Details:
Thursday, September 22, 2016
6:00 – 9:30pm

Monastero’s Ristorante
3935 W. Devon, Chicago

Tickets:
Ticket Price: $75
Host a Table of Ten: $700

Ticket price includes: hors d’oeurves, salad, dinner, dessert and coffee/tea.
Cash bar available.

Tickets must be purchased in advance.
Please book your tickets by September 16th.

If you have any questions about this event, please contact Molly at Molly@CROSO.org.

An Unexpected Gift

photoToday’s blog post is written by Christine Ng, one of CROSO’s newest committee members. Christine shares her experience of participating on CROSO’s Scholar Selection Committee.

Two months ago, I received a wonderful, most unexpected gift, wrapped in the form of an email. My dear friend Sally Ryan, a CROSO board member, invited me to join the scholar selection committee. The timing was perfect; I had closed the chapter on another school year and was looking forward to the possibilities of summer. With a simple “yes,” I unknowingly began a four-week journey of renewal.

I’m a teacher. I’ve been teaching for almost 25 years and I simply love my work. It’s more than my job, it’s my vocation. And yet, two months ago, I felt quite ready for summer. I had mismanaged the work/life balance during the last months of school. Tired to the bone aptly described my state of being.

Shortly after I said goodbye to my students, I sat down at my dining room table with a thick stack of CROSO scholarship applications. The quietness of my home at this early morning hour allowed for total immersion in each applicant’s story. I began to read the first application and was immediately moved by the young man’s narrative – the unfathomable hardship, injustice, and struggle, and yet the palpable faith, perseverance, and hope. The next application, submitted by a young woman,  painted a similar picture of steadfast determination despite lacking basic needs like food, shelter, and family. After reading the second story, I put the stack of applications away for the day and sat stunned as I reflected on these two students’ lives.

For the next two weeks, I started each morning by reading through one or two applications. Each voice stirred something in me. I spread the reading out, focusing on one or perhaps two young men or women each day to honor each story, to keep each person clearly defined in my head and in my heart. Tears welled up in my eyes. I could hear myself sighing for their struggles.

Civil war. Famine. Parents who died from AIDS. Children abandoned by parents. Picking food from the garbage. Sweeping floors to collect grains of rice to eat or to sell. Begging on the streets. Nowhere to sleep.

Yet the students also wrote about how their life experiences motivated them to pursue education at a university, college, or technical institution to change the situation for themselves and most especially for others in their communities. A vision and an optimism for a better future ran throughout each narrative. It was very hard to select my top five scholarship candidates, as I’d been assigned to do. Every single applicant gave evidence of courage and strength of character, demonstrated dedication to his or her community through volunteer work, and expressed a strong desire to continue education in order to give back to the community.

From the beginning of this process, these stories were gifts of hope that refreshed my tired spirit until it was overflowing with a new optimism and a resolve to do more. My simple “yes” allowed me to absorb these precious stories of restoration that, in turn, brought renewal to my soul.

 

 

Scholarships that Transform Lives

A reflection by Molly MacCready, CROSO Founder and Executive Director, after visiting Uganda in June 2016.

After spending time in Uganda last month with CROSO Board Member Sally Ryan, I am filled with stories and scenes that make my heart feel so full. Everything Sally and I witnessed affirmed the work CROSO has done for the past nine years and at the same time emphasized how much more work there still is to do. I could write pages and pages, but for now I’ll try to stick with one story.

At the end of our first day visiting our partner organization (C.R.O.), Sally and I were tired. It was the end of a full day after a VERY long weekend of travel and both Sally and I were ready to be back in our hotel where we could relax. Instead, we found ourselves in a long conversation with Stella and Carol, two of the C.R.O. social workers who I have known since my first trip to Uganda ten years ago! Sally and I sat in chairs along the wall of their small, poorly lit office which somehow managed to hold three full-size desks and seven chairs, with just barely enough room for anyone to walk in or out.

Near the beginning of the conversation, Stella made a comment about how the CROSO scholarship is a transformational opportunity that enables our Scholars to become self-reliant and productive citizens in Uganda. Carol then quickly jumped in to share examples of what our CROSO graduates are up to now. Carol shared that Lokorio Mary (CROSO Scholar from 2009-2012) continues to work as a health educator for an NGO in Moroto district. As Carol described Mary’s success in that field, her face glowed with pride. She said CROSO has really created “powerful people.”

Our feelings of exhaustion ebbed as Sally and I listened with rapt attention as Carol went on to list the successes of other CROSO graduates.

  • Okolis John Bosco (CROSO Scholar from 2010-2013) was promoted to branch manager for the micro-credit bank where he works in Pallisa town.
  • Namasobo Lydia (CROSO Scholar from 2010-2012) lives in Mbale, is married with a one year old child and works part-time for BRAC, a development organization with the goal of alleviating poverty by empowering the poor. (Lydia and Molly are pictured above.)
  • Nafuna Margaret (CROSO Scholar from 2012-2015) is a manager for a business based in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala.
  • Walufu Titus (CROSO Scholar from 2013-2015) is working as a civil engineer for a company based in Kampala that is involved in road construction.

With each story shared, Carol’s eyes grew brighter and brighter. Having worked at C.R.O. for over ten years, she’s known many of these young adults for nearly half their lives. She and Stella (and all the C.R.O. staff) were instrumental in their upbringing and now, just like proud parents, the C.R.O. staff tell these triumphant stories of realized potential. While we already knew some of those updates, some were completely new to us.

When there was a pause in Carol’s stories, I asked if either of them had heard about Edweo Sam’s success and they both shook their heads no. I was excited to contribute to their enthusiastic reports and shared that Sam (CROSO Scholar in 2009) has been working in Lira with a solar panel company for several years now. Last October, I received an email from him informing me that he’d been promoted to lead branch manager for the company! Carol and Stella were thrilled for him.

Thinking back on that meeting with Carol and Stella, I am struck by what a beautiful moment of camaraderie that was for all of us. Within the first day of being there, we were able to see that we all shared a common investment in these Scholars. I don’t just mean financial or even time invested, but genuine emotional investment and hope that these scholars will be able to work for a better future for themselves.

When we created CROSO, we believed that these young people had far greater potential and, with access to higher education, they would be able to have huge positive impacts on their communities. Nine years later, we can comfortably say that our Scholars have proven that ten-fold. Each time we invest in a new scholar, we are opening the door for them to have a brighter future. At the sight of that open door, our scholars are not merely walking through, they are sprinting! Through their hard work and commitment to their coursework, our Scholars have been able to break the cycle of poverty that has held them hostage for so many years. Their new freedom has had a ripple effect and improved the lives of their families and their communities, especially as they step into more and more leadership positions.

Stella was right—our CROSO scholarship program truly is transforming lives!