Removing barriers to college
Diane DeLawder helps students envision a brighter future
A 9-year-old boy named Austin and a piggy bank called Señor Gummy Bear made Diane DeLawder realize that her life’s work was benefiting generations of families.
As executive director of the Newark, Ohio, nonprofit A Call to College, DeLawder ’80 works with staff to ensure that every new graduate of Newark City Schools has the opportunity to pursue higher education. Not an easy task in a school system where nearly a quarter of families live in poverty and many students are the first in their families to attend college.
For 21 years, DeLawder had been so busy helping students that she didn’t fully realize the program’s reach. Until a phone call one day last fall.
On the line was Kate Hannum-Rose, mother of fourth-grader Austin Rose. She told DeLawder that Austin had come home from school excited about a four-slotted piggy bank he was introduced to that day.
“Mom, do you know about A Call to College?” Austin asked his mother.
Did she ever. “They’re the ones who taught me how to go to college,” Hannum-Rose responded, amazed. “But how do you know about it?”
Someone from A Call to College was teaching his class about money, he told her. Austin and his classmates had won tokens for doing homework and having good attendance, then deposited them in Señor Gummy Bear’s slots — one each for saving, donating, investing and spending. Fill each slot, do well in school and off to college you go, the children learned.
Hannum-Rose was stunned. Twenty years ago, she had gone to DeLawder in a tizzy. Neither she nor her parents had any idea how to complete financial aid forms. DeLawder helped her, and the nonprofit awarded her a grant to help cover college expenses.
When the two connected by phone last fall, Hannun-Rose thanked DeLawder for reaching out so early in her son’s life.
The story touched DeLawder. “Leave it to a student to bring home the message,” she says. “When you hear kids talking at home about what happened at school, that’s success.”
When A Call to College was founded in 1991, the organization focused on helping high school seniors with the college financial aid process.
“We soon learned that high school is too late to begin working with students,” DeLawder says. With strong support from the A Call to College board of directors, staff partnered with Newark City Schools teachers and administration to develop and launch educational programming that starts in the second grade and goes through 12th, including integrated classroom curriculum and programs, college campus visits, targeted ACT test preparation and assisting students and families with understanding and accomplishing requirements a college-bound student must meet.
As strong core of volunteers and community partners are at the heart of the program's success.
Last year, 276 volunteers from Licking County worked with DeLawder and her staff. Since its founding, the organization has awarded more than $3 million in needs-based grants.
“Diane helps students explore all kinds of options for postsecondary education and also promotes her alma mater,” Kim Manno, assistant director of development at Ohio State Newark, wrote in nominating DeLawder for The Ohio State University Alumni Association’s 2017 Dan L. Heinlein Award for University Advocacy.
“She is quick to let students know about the great and affordable education available in their own backyard,” Manno says.
The message obviously resonates. Of the 131 students who graduated from Newark High School in 2015 and went on to college, 36 percent enrolled at Ohio State.
DeLawder herself found her way there after some changes in direction. Her parents encouraged her to go to college, but they were unable to provide the necessary funding. She won a scholarship to study theater at a private college, but after one year, she made a decision that a change was needed. Her husband, Dan, provided the encouragement and support for Diane to enroll at Ohio State Newark and consider elementary education.
“Once I enrolled at Ohio State Newark, I found that paying for college was attainable,” she says, “and I received great support with the direction of my major in elementary education.”
DeLawder went on to teach middle school and train teachers for a kindergarten-readiness program. In 1993, she began volunteering with A Call to College, and she accepted the role of director three years later.
“We make high school graduation not an endpoint, but a springboard,” she says.