Skip to content

C.H.O.I.C.E.: Helping DFW’s Future First-Generation College Students Find Their Voice

Give students a C.H.O.I.C.E and a chance! In February 2016, the Dallas Morning News published an article stating that over 89% of students in the Dallas school district are high poverty students.
graduate multicultural boy diploma

Give students a C.H.O.I.C.E and a chance!

In February 2016, the Dallas Morning News published an article stating that over 89% of students in the Dallas school district are high poverty students. But this isn’t just an overwhelming statistic—this translates into a large group of students who lack emotional, financial, academic and professional resources, yet who desire to become first-generation college graduates.

This type of student wants to differentiate themselves from their parents’ circumstances, but are often scared and unclear on what that means or how to get there. However, our community’s future relies on these at­-risk youth finding their voice and building their character strengths. How can we help underprivileged students who dream of attending college to do so? What challenges do they face, and are these students even motivated to succeed with a helping hand?

Jessica Koss and Blake Bartnick, the founders of Foundation for C.H.O.I.C.E (Consider How One Individual Changes Everything), began mentoring underprivileged youth at a local high school. They quickly observed the large gap in the support at­-risk students were receiving to prepare for college in comparison with their more affluent cohorts. Despite the students’ odds and lack of resources, Blake and Jessica were inspired by their enthusiasm and perseverance to get into college. As a first-generation college student himself, Blake can attest to the motivation of these students and their desire to help others.

What are the unique challenges of low-income, first-generation future college students that C.H.O.I.C.E mentors work with? Parental support is frequently weak or nonexistent, and these youth face adult challenges with little preparation. C.H.O.I.C.E students often provide an important income source for their families, or may be homeless, or living with friends while struggling to keep up with school. Without parent-professional networks, students routinely find themselves in low-paying service jobs working long hours. They can’t usually afford to participate in the unpaid internships that are important for college preparation.

In 2014, economically disadvantaged high school students in Collin and Dallas counties were reluctant to independently apply for student financial aid; over $33 million of aid remained unused. Challenges continue as these students navigate a move to a new academic and cultural college environment with lots of unspoken rules and cultural norms. Emotional challenges include insecurity and poor interpersonal skills learned in a dysfunctional household. Many first-generation college students are frequent targets for discrimination and may feel a stigma associated with their background. Inaccurate assumptions are easily made regarding their backgrounds and experiences.

How do the C.H.O.I.C.E students find their voice to seek guidance and fulfill their dreams to become first-generation college students? The mentorship program provides a vital link, as well as the students’ determination and passion to change their lives, and the lives of their siblings and families. A large portion of first-generation college students also want to give back to communities. C.H.O.I.C.E  students are working hard to become future nurses, Olympic athletes, journalists, pediatricians and designers.

C.H.O.I.C.E helps a dynamic group of motivated, hand­-picked underprivileged students through a mentor, college preparation and college scholarship program. To date, generous North Texans have invested over 1,000 volunteer hours and 21 corporate sponsors have committed to the “Research a Business” projects. Currently, C.H.O.I.C.E is serving 18 students in the Plano and Dallas school districts. An increase to 50 students within the two districts is expected next year, due to the rapidly growing demand for their services.

Consider “paying it forward” by helping the students of C.H.O.I.C.E find their voice and attend college, whether through donations, volunteer time, corporate sponsorship/support, or building awareness of the C.H.O.I.C.E mission through social media and blogs. Visit this nonprofit on the web at or join the discussion on the challenges of first-generation college students on their blog, Facebook or Twitter @CHOICE_org.

Throughout the year, the organization host events that benefit the overall program. The next event is:


Painting with a Twist-Grapevine will donate 100% of the proceeds if this event sells out, and will add an additional donation of $500!

When: Sunday, April 24,  2–5 p.m.

Where: Painting With a Twist in Grapevine, 203 E. Worth St. #100, Grapevine, Texas 76051

Cost: $45 a seat. Register here. AGE MINIMUM 18


Foundation for C.H.O.I.C.E. has a high school mentoring program that focuses on securing college entry and providing college scholarships for Juniors and Seniors in local partnering high schools. The foundation focuses on preparing at-risk students for life after high school, while providing them with the resources, skills, and mentoring relationships necessary to promote a seamless transition. The organization partners with Dallas ISD and Plano ISD to obtain  students.  C.H.O.I.C.E. is a 501(c)(3) organization and all donations are tax deductible.