By Joyce Erekson
Candidates for the oval office may be out there promising to find a way to help lessen the financial burden facing college students these days but two 2012 English High graduates are actually doing something about it.
Chris Birotte and his girlfriend, Larissa Azevedo, are trying to raise money for a scholarship that will be awarded this spring to a member of the English High Class of 2016 and they’re doing it in a somewhat unique way. They’re distributing mason jars to friends, family and anyone willing to take one with the goal of collecting as much spare change as possible to put toward the scholarship. Each jar bears a quote by Mahatma Gandhi – “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Both Birotte and Azevedo went on to college after graduating from English High – Birotte to Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire and Azevedo to Bunker Hill Community College. Both will graduate this spring. It was Birotte’s struggle to pay for school after his sophomore year that inspired the scholarship.
The combination of medical problems within his family and not receiving a scholarship he expected to receive put Birotte, who is responsible for his own expenses including his education, in a financial hole heading into his junior year. He reluctantly set up a Go Fund Me page with Azevedo’s help and within a couple of weeks, he had received more than $8,000 in donations from family, friends and total strangers, enabling him to return to school.
“I saw an outrageous amount of support,” Birotte said. “Since that whole thing happened, its’ been one of my main projects to try and give back. We’ve been wanting to do this for a while.”
Azevedo, who is majoring in paralegal studies at Bunker Hill, plans to continue her education at Suffolk University. She said her family has been very supportive of her education and it was her mother, Rose Azevedo, who came up with the mason jar idea. Long-time family friend Diane Braga has also been a key in getting things going by donating materials to decorate the jars and helping with the project.
“We just want to be able to make a difference. It feels a lot better when you can do something for someone else. We’ve been so blessed. We’ve gotten so much help from people around us. We feel like we owe it to give back,” Azevedo said.
In collecting change, Azevedo said the idea is that a person doesn’t have to give much, but if a lot of people give a little it will add up. That’s what happened with the Go Fund Me Page.
“Even if you think your contribution isn’t substantial enough, it can make a difference in the long run. Imagine what we could have if everyone donated a little,” she said. “Once I thought about it (the Go Fund Me page) it wasn’t one person donating a lot of money that made it. It was a bunch of people giving a little.”
The efforts have already raised over $300 and the jars are still out. Azevedo said she started getting the jars out around Thanksgiving and they continued when Birotte came home for Christmas break. They’re hoping to get as many out as possible.
“Even if we just get enough money to pay off one kid’s books it would be a help,” she said, adding that they hope to offer a scholarship in subsequent years as well.
Birotte, who ran track and cross country at English and continued at the college level, is a health sciences majors. He hopes to become a physical therapist. He said when they decided to launch the scholarship drive they checked with English High guidance counselor Matthew Wilkins.
Wilkins said Birotte was an incredible young man who succeeded academically and athletically at English. He said when Birotte ran into financial difficulty paying for college, it was no surprise that so many family, friends and members of the community rallied to support him.
“It’s amazing, even now, while still finishing college that he’s leading an effort to raise money to support other students with their higher education costs,” Wilkins said.
Anyone who would like to help out by throwing their spare change into a mason jar for the cause can reach either Birotte or Azevedo through their Facebook page (they check it constantly throughout the day) at Be the Change Scholarship (http://www.facebook.com/BeTheChangeScholarship). Azevedo can also be reached by email at [email protected]. The couple is also planning some other fundraisers to help fund the scholarship.