Anonymous donor sends Proviso East grad back to college - New York News

Anonymous donor sends Proviso East grad back to college

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CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

Monte Johnson was watching cartoons in his bedroom Friday morning when his grandmother told him a wealthy stranger wanted to help him get back in college.

"I was kind of speechless," Johnson said of the $25,000 an anonymous donor paid toward his tuition after reading a Sun-Times story detailing how the teenager was forced to drop out of South Carolina State University because he could no longer afford it.

Johnson's grandmother was equally shocked over the surprise gift.

"There are no words for my gratitude. ‘Thank you' doesn't say what is in my heart," Gale Garrett said.

"It has truly renewed my faith."

Johnson, whose father died when he was 1 year old, was orphaned after his mom died in the 2003 E2 nightclub disaster. At the time, he and 36 other children who lost parents in the stampede were promised money from a college scholarship fund established by the Chicago Public Schools.

But a decade later — the Sun-Times reported last month — the families remained waiting for their share of the $118,000 and Johnson, a sophomore who secured some funds through a marching band scholarship at SCSU, had to come back home last August.

"I was devastated. I had a long bus ride back and had a lot of time to think about," Johnson said Friday from the Broadview home he shares with the grandmother he often refers to as his mom.

For the last few months, Johnson, a trumpet player, has been volunteering his time at his alma mater, Maywood's Proviso East High School, helping students practice their music.

Now, thanks to his secret benefactor, the 19-year-old can also concentrate on going back to college in the fall.

"I'm grateful [because] they didn't have to" help me, Johnson said.

The donor, who doesn't want to reveal his or her identity to Johnson, promises more money if Johnson maintains his grades.

"I grew up poor, and my father did everything so that he could to send me to school," the donor told the Sun-Times. "People talk about inequality, but the greatest source of equality is a good education."

CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said Friday that attorneys for the young survivors of E2 victims have been contacted about eligibility of the scholarship fund and that some families have reached back to school officials. The process to distribute the money has not started yet, Ziegler said, noting that some children aren't old `enough to be in college and others have to prove they are enrolled in college to get the money.

Johnson, who used to attend Chicago Public Schools, is still waiting for his CPS check.

However, when that day comes, Johnson and his grandmother plan to donate the money back to the scholarship fund so other needy students can benefit.

"Somebody gave to us. Why not give back?" Johnson said.

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