ITHACA, N.Y. – More than $37,000 has been raised for an Ithaca College student’s tuition after an error made while applying for financial aid would have stopped him from attending the college.
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Elijah Potts, 17, is the first person in his family to attend college and mistakenly did not fill out a required form while applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, he said.
His friend’s mother, Sandi McCoy, – who he lives with in the town of Temple Hills in Maryland – made a Gofundme page to raise money for his tuition.
Within 24 hours, Potts’ page surpassed their $35,000 goal.
“It’s like everybody in this community just helped…and said this isn’t going to happen,” McCoy said.
Potts has had an admittedly hard life. Born to a teenage mother who raised him primarily by herself, Potts remembers moving frequently and having to care for himself growing up.
“I had a key to my apartment at age five so I could let myself in after school when I got off the bus,” he wrote on the gofundme page.
By the time Potts was in middle school, he started playing football, which would be his ticket for a scholarship at one of the most prestigious high schools in the country – Sidwell Friends School. Sasha and Malia Obama attend the school, which boasts alumni that include other presidents’ children, such as Chelsea Clinton.
For most of the time Potts attended Sidwell, he rode the city bus nearly two hours to get to school by 8 a.m. and another two hours to get home. During football season, he got home as late as 9 p.m., he said.
Before the beginning of his junior year, Potts’ mother gave birth to another child, Ryeli. The family downsized to a smaller apartment and Potts began helping his mother care for the baby.
“I have learned how to balance a baby on one knee and a schoolbook on the other,” he wrote.
In January, Potts moved in with his friend and football teammate Justin McCoy’s family.
Sandi McCoy said she’s seen Potts’ family struggle for the past few years. She extended the offer for Potts to live with her family because she said that kind of investment in her community and people matter.
“We do it because we’re helping – because their futures matter,” she said. “I don’t ever want to turn my back on a person like that.”
It’s the second time she’s opened her home to her son’s friends.
A few years ago, she realized that one of her son’s friends needed more than the occasional ride to a bus stop. She opened her family’s home to him and he’s been living with them since then. The student will attend Syracuse University in the fall.
She said she and her husband used some of their retirement saving to help the boys. They plan to retire in a few years and intended to travel the world.
She said the two of them considered, “What’s more important to us, traveling or helping these boys?” For them, it was not a hard choice to make, she said.
Elijah said he plans to move into his dorm in Ithaca in August. He hopes to minor in music and major in Health Sciences and Human Performance.
He said he still is coming to terms with how quickly his community raised the funds for his tuition.
“It hasn’t clicked yet. It was crazy.” Potts said. “When I see that, it makes me want to work harder.”
He said aspires to be an athletic trainer or nutritionist. After he graduates, he plans to help financially support his mother and 2-year-old brother.
“I want to make sure his life isn’t as much of a struggle as mine was,” he said.