To. Through. And Back.
|Niasia Mercado-Walters with husband Jovan Walters and newborn son Jay at their home in New Haven
During most of her years in New Haven Public Schools, Niasia Mercado did not think college was for her. She knew her family couldn’t begin to afford tuition and she was afraid to take on loans that would take years to pay back. Then, she discovered New Haven Promise, the scholarship program that pays up to full tuition for New Haven Public School students. She immediately began raising her grades and signing up for community service work in order to qualify.
“Promise was the opportunity for me to go college. The only way I was able to go was with a scholarship. Promise gave me that chance.” Mercado’s change in mindset was by the New Haven Promise design. It launched in 2010 with the goal of creating a college-going culture in New Haven Public Schools through a partnership among Yale University, which funds the scholarships, The Community Foundation, which supports the administrative operations, and the City of New Haven. Yale New Haven Hospital is also a major funder and partner.
The program has since evolved to include mentoring, career counseling and local internship opportunities that are part of an expanded mission identified by the tagline: To. Through. And Back. “The old model for kids going to college is that it allowed the best and brightest a way to get out and never come back,” says Promise President Patricia Melton. “New Haven is vibrant and a great place to be. We are invested in keeping our scholars here and involved in our community.”
Through 2019, Promise has disbursed more than $12.7 million in scholarships to more than 1,600 scholars. During the same time, New Haven Public Schools saw its enrollment reach a 50-year high and its graduation rate rise from 64 percent to 80 percent.
The program has also built relationships with more than 60 local organizations that offer internships. Melton says it’s the largest school-tocareer internship program for young people in the region.
“We make sure our scholars are connected when they come home. Just because someone is going to college doesn’t mean they automatically are going to get a career.”
Mercado, member of the first Promise cohort in 2011,found her own opportunities by following the Promise trajectory. She graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with a degree in Public Health while working at Yale catering. After graduating, Niasia was helped by Promise which connected her to a job on Southern’s campus as a mentor. That’s where she discovered her passion for working with college students. Based on that experience, she is finishing a masters program in higher education counseling. She is also married and bought her first home with her husband in New Haven. The couple recently welcomed a baby boy.
In addition to raising a family, Niasia has a clear picture of where she is headed professionally.
“I see myself working on a college campus mentoring students. A lot of my learning about who I am happened when I was in college. That was where I developed as a young woman.”
New Haven Promise is The Community Foundation’s largest programmatic funding initiative.