Jenna Lee, 22, was always a determined, hardworking student. And she always knew what school she wanted to attend after graduation—Temple University. She was accepted to Temple after graduating from Rancocas Valley High School in Mount Holly, New Jersey. But when her parents began to crunch the numbers, they had bad news for Jenna: there just wasn’t enough money for her to go to an out-of-state school. The financial aid package she received from Temple left her parents with a bill they simply could not afford.
Jenna enrolled in a nearby local state school. She wasn’t happy about the remote location, as she’d always known she wanted to go to college in a city atmosphere. But she decided to do her best to make the most of it. But then she realized, toward the end of her first semester, that the school didn’t even offer the necessary classes she would need to pursue her chosen career.
She reapplied to Temple and spent countless hours sending emails and making endless calls to explain her financial situation.
“I got an increase in financial aid,” says Lee. “But only enough to pay tuition. So I had to move in with my sister and commute which was tough because she lived 30 miles away from Temple.”
With the stress of a 30-minutes commute, Jenna’s usually stellar grades suffer. When her car broke down and she had a 90-minute public transportation commute to class, her grades dropped further.
“I had to take a semester off,” says Jenna. “I had failed two classes which was just not like me. I was going to find a way to get what I needed for tuition and room and board.”
After working at a clothing store for a semester and saving every dime, she re-applied for financial aid once more and still was not awarded enough to stay on campus.
“I wasn’t taking no for an answer this time,” says Jenna. “I have three sisters and a brother and for the past few years, they have had at least two kids in college at the same time—sometimes three.”
Jenna again went to the financial aid and asked questions, found supervisors and directors and explained her needs to anyone who listen.
“I couldn’t be prideful,” says Jenna. “I’m sure people got tired of my emails and calls but I couldn’t stop. I had to keep my eyes on the prize.”
Her hard work paid off. For the past two years, Lee has received full tuition and room and board at Temple.
When the dust cleared, another situation arose: she felt twinges of depression when she realized that after all the work she put in, it meant that she would be graduating two years behind schedule.
“I tried to not let it get to me because I finally got what I wanted in terms of getting back into school but when I saw all my friends graduated this past May, I was really bummed.”
This summer, she watched as all her roommates, friends and her entire support system moved out of the dorms and got started on their paths with jobs and upgraded apartments.
“I used to always hang out in the rooms of my friends because my place was always a mess. I didn’t have any money to do anything to my room to make it comfortable or organized so I didn’t spend a lot of time there.”
This summer, the feelings of isolation grew stronger.
“My friends were gone and I spent more and more time in this bland, dark dorm room that just made me feel worse.”
And that’s when EBONY came to the rescue. After hearing her story, the magazine decided to reach out to vendors like Ikea, The Container Store, Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond and others to trick out Jenna’s off-campus dorm-style apartment at Temple.
“I am beyond grateful to EBONY for this,” says Jenna. “I now have a room that makes me feel inspired to keep moving towards my goal. And although I feared I’d be isolated this semester, it’s actually the opposite! My apartment is now the place to hang out because people feel comfortable here and that’s a great feeling too.”
After consulting with the various vendors, it was clearing that Jenna needed two major things: organization and décor.
“I had these sad little Christmas lights on wall,” Jenna says with a laugh. “And I had at least 40 pairs of shoes crammed under my bed because I just didn’t have anywhere to put them. My schoolwork was everywhere and visually, the room was just not inspiring.”
Storage solutions from The Container Store, (including shoe storage!) photo frames and lighting from Ikea, a Kate Spade bedding set from Bed Bath & Beyond, wall décor from Target’s Back To School collection and art-themed home accessories company Kess InHouse coupled with a fluffy washable rug from Ruggable brought Jenna’s digs to life in one afternoon. And of course no dorm would be complete without wireless speakers, provided by the Fluance brand. And to make sure she could start the semester in style, she’ll now be toting her books in a limited-edition backpack from designer-of-the-moment Sprayground. (You’ll see their products on the backs of celebrities from Chris Brown, 50 Cent, and DeSean Jackson.)
“I’ve got two more years,” says Lee, who is majoring in education. “And I’m going to make it. And the fact that I have a comfy, organized room to make it happen is just the icing on the cake.”
To read more about Jenna and see more shots of her new room, check out the September issue of EBONY, on stands now!