This Church Paid off $100,000 in Student Debt for 34 College Students

During a month-long financial fast, church members donated funds to give to a good cause.

Apr 12, 2019

There are now 34 college students graduating in May who no longer have any student debt thanks to a church in Virginia whose members raised $150,000 during a 21-day fast in January.

One of the students who had her college debt paid off by the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria Virginia was Mya Thompson, 25, a senior at Howard University in Washington DC

"I was overwhelmed and excited," Thompson, told Good Morning America. "I’ve always applied for a scholarship, but I’d never received one and it was kind of like, 'Wow, I finally got chosen.'"

Thompson is the first in her family to go to college. She is a single mother who is working the overnight shift at a 911 emergency call center, as well as taking college classes. Thompson received $2,500 to pay off the rest of her tuition that had to be paid before graduation.

"Of course, it’s stressful to know that you have to have $2,500 to come out of your pocket," she said. "However, no matter what, I would have paid that by any means, so it’s the fact that I don’t have to worry about paying that on top of my bills and other stuff."

Thompson and the other 33 Howard University students found out that their college debt was being paid in February when they were called to the school's financial office. There they were met by Reverend Dr. Howard-John Wesley, the pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church who told them about the amazing gift from the church.

Reverend Wesley had previously met with university officials to pick students who overcame financial hardships to attend the university and had good GPAs, but their debts to the school were holding them back from graduating. The students were overjoyed and incredibly grateful that their debts were being paid and that they would graduate this spring.

Wayne A. I. Frederick, the president of Howard University, told GMA that he expects the church's donation to have a ripple effect that will reach far beyond the 34 seniors who received the money.

The 8,000-member mega congregation that Wesley leads embarked in January on a period of fasting where congregants were asked to make diet, social media fasts and to refrain from unnecessary purchases in a financial fast and donate the funds instead. Wesley cut out his $4 a day coffee purchases to add that money to the pot.

The fast took place during the 21-day government shutdown, and the donations exceeded everyone's expectations. Instead of the $25,000 that was expected, church members dug deep into their pockets and donated $150,000 according to Wesley.

The congregants did all this without even knowing what cause they were donating to. "We said we would pray as a church to what the Lord was telling us to do [with the money] and that we would donate it 100 percent outside of the church," Wesley told GMA

The pastor credits his assistants Mark Lavarin and Elijah McDavid with brainstorming the idea to use the money to pay off student debt at Howard University and using $50,000 to pay off student debt at Bennett College, a women's college in Greensboro North Carolina.

Both schools have been historically black institutions that were formed when students of color were not accepted into other universities. Wesley said that around 75 percent of the congregants at Alfred Street Baptist go to historically black colleges and universities.

The average US student loan borrower graduates with close to $30,000 in debt and many student loans are delinquent because the repayments start immediately after graduation. The gift of being able to graduate from college debt free will enable these students to begin new lives and as pastor Wesley told them, "do great things."

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.