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Local Foundation to Provide Gwinnett Students With Fully Funded College Savings Accounts

Dozens of middle school students in Gwinnett County are a step closer to an affordable college education. Thursday, November 2, at 9:15 a.m., Bernard Watson, the founder and President of the S.T.E.P.P. (Success Through Education Preparation and Perseverance), Foundation, will launch the Barbra Watson-Riley Striving Students Scholarship Program at Moore Middle School in Lawrenceville. The program will provide college savings accounts and seed money to two classes of 6th grade students at the school. (The two classes were selected via a lottery).

Each account will receive an initial deposit of $50, followed by yearly deposits from grades 7 through 12. Students can earn additional money through incentives for good grades, attendance, behavior and completion of a financial literacy course.

“I am so excited about this program and the potential it has to make college or other post-secondary education opportunities accessible to these students, many of whom are minorities and come from families who can’t afford college or don’t believe it’s an option,” Watson said. “Through this program, the students have the ability to earn thousands of dollars for college. I had a vision and Brand Bank was instrumental in bringing it to life. It is providing the college savings accounts at no cost, covering the initial deposit and doubling the size of the program by agreeing to do all of that for not just one class, but two. Because of Brand Bank’s generosity, my family and I have made the financial commitment to cover all incentives earned during the first two years of the program. I can’t properly express how thankful and appreciative I am that Sue Wyatt, Brand Bank’s Director of Retail Banking and the rest of the bank’s leadership believe in me, my foundation but most importantly, the children.”

By the end of their senior year, students enrolled in the program can earn more than $500 through the program’s yearly deposits and incentives, but there is no limit to the amount parents, guardians, businesses, charitable organizations or good Samaritans can donate.

A 2013 study conducted at Washington University in St. Louis found that students from low-income families with $1 to $499 in college savings are 2.5 times more likely to enroll in college. If those same students have $500 in college savings, they are three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate from college compared to students with no college savings.

“The Barbra Watson-Riley Striving Students Scholarship Program is named after my sister, a Washington University Law School graduate, who fell victim to Breast Cancer four years ago. During her brief time on this earth, Barbra dedicated her life to helping people. This is my way of continuing her work. Every child should have the opportunity to attend college or have access to some other form of post-secondary education. The Barbra Watson-Riley Striving Students Scholarship Program will help make that a reality,” Watson said.