Child Poverty

Five High School Seniors Recognized for “Beating the Odds”

April 30, 2020
Media Contact: Yvonne Lerew, 651-855-1179

Five Minnesota high school seniors, who have overcome tremendous adversity in their young lives and yet have managed to achieve academic excellence and aspire to attend college, will be recognized with Beat the Odds® Scholarships at the 29th Annual Beat the Odds Award Celebration, sponsored by Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota. This year’s event will be a virtual celebration on Thursday, May 13, starting at 6:30 p.m. The five honorees are Sarah Ali, Minneapolis South High School; Daidyena Frost, Brooklyn Center High School; Cindy Candela Gonzaga, St. Paul Central High School; Tolchi Nwankpa, Tartan Senior High School; and Quentin Wolf, Minneapolis South High School. Each will each receive a $5,000 scholarship, a laptop computer and other support to help them achieve their college dreams.

CDF-MN’s Beat the Odds celebration helps raise awareness about the significant challenges facing Minnesota’s children and the need for continued investment and advocacy for programs and initiatives that allow all children to succeed. Over the past 29 years, the challenges facing Beat the Odds students have focused attention on how difficult it is for many of Minnesota’s children to stay in school and graduate from high school, much less go on to college. Since CDF-MN began awarding these scholarships, most applicants have been students of color who lived in very low-income households and attended Minneapolis or St. Paul public schools. They commonly struggled to overcome overwhelming adversities such as the death of a parent, out-of-home placements or emotional/physical abuse. While students still struggle with these obstacles, other issues have emerged in recent years that reflect the additional burdens that too many children must bear while growing up.

Over the past five years, CDF-MN has noted increases in the number of Beat the Odds applicants who are:

  • From the suburbs. This year 43% of applicants lived in suburban areas.
  • Experiencing mental health issues, either their own or those of a parent or family member. Specifically, students mentioned anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and PTSD.
  • Experiencing homelessness. This has long been one of the obstacles that Beat the Odd students face, but this year, struggling with housing issues was a prevalent theme among all applicants with many of them talking about homelessness or living in homes other than their parents’ homes.
  • Living independently, often as the result of homelessness or separation from their parents. Living independently increases the stressors these students face, as they must now worry about supporting themselves, paying bills and managing their homes, often without the support of adults.
  • Facing multiple, compounded obstacles such as mental health issue and homelessness and emotional/physical abuse.

More than 80% of this year’s Beat the Odds applicants live in households with incomes less than $50,000 a year and 35% in households with incomes less than $25,000 a year. The link between living in poverty and negative outcomes for children is well documented. However, a growing body of research shows that children living in low-income households face many of the same challenges that children in poverty face, increasing the odds that they will experience poor health, educational and employment outcomes in the future. Statewide, nearly a third of Minnesota children live in low-income households (defined as less than $51,852 in annual income for a household of 4 or twice the federal poverty guideline).*

Beat the Odds students are honored for their resiliency and determination in overcoming the obstacles they face in order to graduate from high school with ambitions to go on to higher education. Yet, they didn’t do it all on their own. Most of them point to a parent, teacher, counselor, coach, program or some caring adult that provided the guidance and support that made a difference in their lives. Many participate in extra-curricular school activities, college prep programs, and community groups. Many, too, mention public work support programs such as Medical Assistance, SNAP and housing assistance as much needed family economic supports. So, while honoring students for their accomplishments, Beat the Odds also puts a spotlight on the struggles many of our youth face and the importance of community support for the programs and services that can help level the playing field so all children have the opportunity to succeed.

During this year’s Beat the Odds Celebration, the five award winners will share their inspiring stories of perseverance and resiliency. The virtual event is open to the public but registration is required. More information can be found at:


ATTN Editors: Please include in Event Calendars. If interested, you may arrange an interview with one of the Beat the Odds honorees by contacting the Media Contact listed above.

The Children’s Defense Fund Leave No Child BehindÒ mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.

*Data on children living in low-income households is from the 2020 Minnesota Kids Count Data Book found at .