College access motivates Hinsdale mom

A low-income background should not dissuade a young person from aiming for a high-level college education, Sally Guglielmo asserts.

That belief inspired the Hinsdale resident two years ago to co-found Green Halo Scholars, an organization that comes alongside promising but under-served high school seniors to help them navigate the college application and admissions process.

"There's no way things are going to change unless we change the education," Guglielmo said.

As a volunteer with Chicago Scholars, she mentored inner-city students on navigating the college application process. She recognized the same need existed in the suburbs. Guglielmo found a kindred soul in fellow Chicago Scholars volunteer and Burr Ridge resident, Vandana Bahl. After the death of her teenage son, Varun, in 2015, Bahl had awarded memorial college scholarships to Hinsdale South seniors. Green Halo was Bahl's term of endearment for Varun, and Guglielmo agreed it should be the name of the group they launched in 2018.

In addition to Hinsdale South, Green Halo serves students at Proviso West, Proviso East, Proviso Math & Science, Lyons Township and Bolingbrook high schools.

The pair got right to work, coaching students referred to them by school counselors on essay writing and using Common App, an online application tool of which many were not aware.

"We'd just start doing their essays with them, because we're in a rush trying to get their applications in," she said, scrambling so students could attend Chicago Scholars' upcoming Onsite event to meet college representatives. "We paid for 27 kids to attend Onsite that year."

The investment paid off.

"These kids, when they actually have the opportunity to talk with an admissions counselor ... their confidence just goes through the roof." Guglielmo remarked.

An acceptance letter shifts the focus to financial aid, vital for students often living in single-parent households with little money to spare.

"So they qualify for the full Pell Grant and the full MAP Grant," she said, referencing funds available to those with need. "The next thing is scholarships."

Green Scholars has relationships with more than a dozen institutions and Guglielmo is reluctant to ask them to bridge gaps between costs and a family's resources.

"We go back to universities and do an appeal letter - 'What can you give us? Give us more. These kids can't attend,' " she related.

The persistent advocacy has had profound results.

"This year we had three students who got offered full everything at (University of) Dayton as Green Halo Scholars," she said. "That was our first real success with a college."

The Paul Shane Spear quote crowning Green Halo's website reads, "As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person."

"It doesn't take that much," Guglielmo said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean