Paying for college with Skittles

February 1st, 2016

Ramsay High School 9th grade students play the Skittles Game to learn about paying for college.

What do Skittles have to do with paying for college?

Misperceptions about the costs of college – and how to pay for it – are very common amongst low-income, minority, and first-generation college students.  These students and their families tend to overestimate the costs of attending college, and the overwhelming majority don’t know about grants and scholarships to help pay for college.

As a result, many students don’t know how to make their college dreams come true. In order to overcome these barriers, Alabama Possible created the Skittles Game for its Blueprints College Access Initiative students.

The Skittles Game begins with each Blueprints student picking an Alabama college. These colleges can be a 2-year, 4-year, public or private institution. Students are then given a breakdown of the total cost of attendance, which includes tuition, room and board, and books for that school.

To win the Skittles Game, students must pay the total cost of attendance using as many types of financial aid, or skittles, as they need. Each skittle is worth $1,000, and the five colors of skittles represent merit-based aid, need-based aid, private scholarships, subsidized loans, and private loans.

Ramsay High School Freshman Yazemeen Oliver said, “It made me realize there are many different ways to pay for college.”

Students roll a dice, flip a coin, and do other things to secure different amounts and types of aid. As the game progresses, each type of aid is discussed. Interesting conversations emerge among the students as they notice that it takes some students more or less aid to pay for college, depending on the type of institution and their ACT scores.

“I learned that you can get a scholarship for being a first generation college student,” said Ramsay High School Freshman Markielah Lyle. “I learned about community scholarships and that every scholarship is important no matter how large or small the amount is.”

The high school students’ near-peer mentors also learn from the experience. Birmingham-Southern College mentor Caroline Santopadre said she “learned that there were many different types of financial aid.”

As a result of the game, students learn about the types of financial aid available to fund higher education and acquire financial literacy tools. The Skittles game is appropriate for students in 8th – 12th grade. Find the instructions here and the game sheets here.

Blueprints hits the road for college tours

January 7th, 2016

The end of each semester brings a flurry of college campus field trips for Blueprints College Access Initiative students, who spend six to eight weeks working with college student near-peer mentors to complete college planning milestones. In November and December 2015, students from three Blueprints partner high schools made campus visits to several two- and four-year college partners.

“We want students to be inspired by being on campus and visualize themselves at the schools by spending time quality time with their Blueprints mentors,” said Alabama Possible Program Manager Elizabeth Parks.

A group of 19 Montevallo High School juniors went to Troy University.  While on campus, they visited the student center, classrooms, and on-campus housing. They got to meet with Coordinator of Student Involvement and Advisor to the National Pan-Hellenic Council Chris Hager and learn about extracurricular activities including Greek life, club sports, and special interest groups like Quidditch. According to the students, the day’s highlight was eating lunch in the cafeteria with a group of Troy undergraduates, who served as their mentors for the day.

The ninth graders at Tuscaloosa’s Hillcrest High School visited Shelton State Community College and The University of Alabama.

While at Shelton, the Hillcrest students learned about the college’s academic and technical education programs, including nursing, fine arts, drafting and cosmetology. They also visited Shelton’s wellness center, which has extensive nutrition and fitness offerings.

The Hillcrest students then went to the UA campus to learn about what a four-year college has to offer. They had lunch in the Lakeside Dining Hall and toured a typical freshman dorm. The students also had the chance to meet Blueprints Founder Nicole Bohannon about the program’s history, and the afternoon ended with a question and answer session with current UA students about their college experiences.

Wenonah ninth grade students are guided on a tour of the University of Montevallo's campus.

Wenonah ninth grade students are guided on a tour of the University of Montevallo’s campus.

A mixture of ninth and tenth grade Blueprints students at Birmingham’s Wenonah High School visited the University of Montevallo.  They had previously visited UAB and Lawson State Community College with Birmingham Education Foundation, so this field trip was a chance for them to experience a small, public liberal arts college. The students met with an admissions counselor to start off the tour. The tour of campus consisted of dorms, classrooms, and the student center. While on the tour, the guide told the students about the many ghost stories that are well known by the students of UM. The students also ate lunch in the cafeteria with many Montevallo students.

“I learned that Montevallo is a school where you can get familiar with everybody because the classes are so small. I like that,” said Charles Ball, Fall 2015 Wenonah Blueprints Valedictorian.

Partner Spotlight: Connie Coleman

January 7th, 2016

As both a high school counselor at Tuscaloosa’s Hillcrest High School and an instructor in The University of Alabama Honors College, Connie Coleman seamlessly facilitates the Blueprints College Access Initiative by connecting Hillcrest ninth graders with her college students every year.

Connie Coleman (center) stands with her University of Alabama Honors College student mentors at Hillcrest High School.

Connie Coleman (center) stands with her University of Alabama Honors College student mentors at Hillcrest High School.

Coleman’s involvement with Blueprints began in 2011, when she collaborated with Alabama Possible staff and Blueprints Founder Nicole Bohannon to bolster the program’s near-peer mentoring model. Near-peer mentoring is a nationally-identified best practice which helps build a culture in which all students truly “know how to go” to post-secondary institutions.

Coleman teaches a Honors Mentoring class each semester at UA, and she said that Blueprints is “a great scaffolding to mentoring.”

Blueprints also provides high school students “with a great ‘road map’ for academic success,” she said. “The information in the curriculum should eliminate those moments late in high school when a student thinks, ‘I wish someone had told me that.'”

 One of her favorite Blueprints moments came when a Hillcrest senior student ambassador described ninth grade course options to an incoming freshman.

“When we came to the list of courses, the ambassador noticed Freshman Seminar.  He began to tell the new student how much he enjoyed Freshman Seminar because of the college mentors that came each week,” Coleman said. “He described his mentor, remembered his major, and told the young girl about the field trip to Shelton and UA.  She promptly chose the course.  I was so pleased that the mentoring had made such a positive impact on the young man.”

During the fall semester, 34 UA Honors College student mentors worked with 91 Hillcrest ninth grade students at Hillcrest High School to completed college-going milestones including:

  • Learn about career categories and how to align their career goals with their interests and academic strengths.
  • Learn how to select a post-secondary institution based on type, education needs, financial factors, career goals, and personal preference.
  • Learn about the types of financial aid available to fund higher education and research tuition levels at institutions of interest.

Blueprints will continue this spring with 60 college student mentors working with 90 ninth grade students.


Lots of countdowns today. This one is about breaking down barriers to prosperity.

December 31st, 2015



Last week we had a chance to catch up with some of our Blueprints alumni. They talked a lot about relationships and how important they were on their college journeys.

Relationships are what these students rely on to overcome barriers, like navigating financial aid or preparing for a big test, that might discourage others.

Relationships are also how we break down barriers to prosperity through programs like Cash for CollegeBlueprints College Access InitiativePoverty Data Sheet, and the Community Action Poverty Simulation.

We are counting down the final hours of 2015, and we still need to raise $2,084 to meet our goal of $20,000. Your commitment to a prosperous Alabama strengthens our efforts to break the cycle of multi-generational poverty, which impacts 900,000 Alabamians – including 300,000 children.

Will you make a tax-deductible investment in Alabama Possible before midnight?

Thank you for your support and partnership. Your participation is critical for our success.

Above, left to right: AmeriCorpsVISTA Ashleigh Staples, Woodlawn High School Senior Mariam Jalloh, AmeriCorpsVISTAs Ariel Smith and Ayumi Byrd, Samford University Junior Micah Green-Holloway, AmeriCorpsVISTA Keslie Boyles, Lawson State Community College Freshman Mohamed Jalloh, and Program Manager Elizabeth Parks at Southside Baptist Church.

Tax Deduction 2015. Let’s build a prosperous Alabama together.

December 28th, 2015

Dear Friends:

There are only four days left to get your 2015 tax deduction while investing in a more prosperous Alabama.

I’m so grateful for the support we’ve received from people like you, who have invested $15,541 this year. Our goal is to reach $20,000 by Thursday night.

Nearly 900,000 Alabamians live below the federal poverty line, and that’s why Alabama Possible works to remove barriers to prosperity. Our research-driven work is designed to broaden relationships and enhance capacity building, with a focus on addressing multi-generational poverty.

Donors like Amanda Wilson of Birmingham say that “doing the work of Alabama Possible makes you feel like you are part of a greater community.”

Amanda’s Husband Ed thinks that “there’s a benefit to us from being around young people and other people doing positive things.”

“You get more than you give,” says Amanda.

Amanda and Ed believe that it is possible for all Alabamians to lead prosperous lives, and that Alabama Possible’s programs like Cash for College, Blueprints College Access Initiative, Poverty Data Sheet, and the Community Action Poverty Simulation work to make that possibility a reality.

As you consider how to invest your year-end contributions, consider this: the need for charity will never cease until we create long-term change. Your tax-deductible gift will reduce poverty through education, collaboration, and advocacy.

Thank you for your support and partnership. Your participation is critical for our success.



Kristina Scott

Executive Director, Alabama Possible


December 17th, 2015

MEDIA CONTACT Allison Lavender | | 205-841-1821

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                  


Census data reveals that 49.6 percent of single mothers in Alabama live in poverty

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Dec. 17, 2015) – On Dec. 3, 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau released its 2010-2014 American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year estimates. Birmingham-based nonprofit Alabama Possible reviewed the data and discovered that 889,710 Alabamians are living in poverty, ranking Alabama the fifth poorest state in the nation.

Alabama Possible’s analysis also revealed an increasingly high-rate of poverty among single mothers. Defined as “female householder, no husband present with related children under 18,” this category of Alabamians experiences poverty at a rate of 49.6 percent in Alabama—the third highest rate in the country.

“Alabama has a distressingly high number of children who live in poverty,” said Kristina Scott, executive director of Alabama Possible. “Many of these children are raised by single mothers. We can’t stop the cycle of poverty without taking a holistic approach that improves outcomes for both children and the adults in their lives.”

Topping the list of Alabama counties with poverty rates among single mothers exceeding 70 percent are:

  • Lamar County – 80 percent
  • Franklin County – 75.1 percent
  • Perry County – 73.7 percent
  • Concecuh County – 73 percent
  • Wilcox County – 71.2 percent

This recent data release provides context for recent reports that 298,929 of Alabama’s kids live in poverty. According to The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, 55.6 percent of single mothers and their children in Birmingham live below the poverty line.

“Single mothers and their children are more likely to experience poverty because they face more obstacles,” said Jeanne Jackson, CEO of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. “These obstacles include wage and wealth inequality, lack of affordable childcare, and barriers to higher education. Because the obstacles are multi-generational, the solutions must be as well.”

About Alabama Possible

Alabama Possible is a statewide nonprofit organization that works to remove barriers to prosperity through advocacy, education and collaboration. Our research-driven work is predicated on relationships and capacity building, so that the state of Alabama can reach its full potential. Alabama Possible has been working to change the way people think and talk about poverty in Alabama since 1993. For more information, visit

About the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham

The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham inspires women to use their philanthropic power to create positive change for women and their children through collaboration, grantmaking, and advocacy. For more information, visit


We’ve teamed up with more of our favorite Alabama makers for our 2015 membership premium

November 30th, 2015

2015 Holiday Gift

This #givingtuesday, we thought we’d give you an opportunity to give the best of Alabama makers through our 2015 holiday gift premium.

Alabama is the sixth poorest state in the nation, and more than 900,000 of our neighbors live in poverty.

Alabama also has a wealth of uncovered potential, and that’s why Alabama Possible works to remove barriers to prosperity through advocacy, education, and collaboration.

Thanks to you, our College Access and Success Programs can build educational equity for low income, minority, and first-generation college-going students across Alabama.

Thanks to you, 1,200 business, education, and faith community leaders have confronted misperceptions about poverty through the Community Action Poverty Simulation.

For your donation of $65 or more, we’ll mail your honoree a gift box with an Alabama Possible coffee mug, Alecia’s Tomato Chutney, a quilted pot holder from That’s Sew Gee’s Bend, and a special note acknowledging your gift and their Alabama Possible membership.

Your enduring commitment to a prosperous Alabama strengthens our efforts and makes our work possible. Order your holiday gift premium – or make another investment – by clicking here.

Thank you!




Thank you for being my neighbor

November 26th, 2015

Thanksgiving seems like a natural time to reflect on the golden rule: to love thy neighbor as thyself.

I grew up in Pittsburgh during the 70s, and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was my favorite show. Fred Rogers lived in Pittsburgh too, and it felt like I was visiting with a kind neighbor every afternoon.

In his simple and elegant way, Mister Rogers helped me understand what it means to truly love thy neighbor as thyself.

First, he made sure I knew that I am special. Second, he taught me that my neighbor is anyone I am with. Third, I learned that it is reciprocal. If I am special, then the people I happen to be with at any moment – my neighbors – must be special too.

Later today, as we sit around the table with our friends and family and give thanks, I will be thinking about how lucky I am to work with so many special people across the state of Alabama as we work together to break down the barriers to prosperity.

Thank you for being my neighbor.

Happy Thanksgiving,