Hope Alfaro very nearly left college. After growing up in Valdese, N.C., earning her way to Carolina and working all the way to her junior year, she hit a roadblock that felt immovable.
“You think you’re a good student in high school—you are a good student in high school—but college is completely different,” she recalled. Alfaro was struggling through the toughest classes she’d ever encountered, wondering whether she made a mistake by coming to Carolina. Her family felt far away, and the road forward looked too steep to climb.
“I took a semester off, and I really wasn’t planning to return.”
It was an email that brought her back. Or rather, a lot of emails. The late Fred Clark, academic coordinator for the Carolina Covenant during its first decade, was relentless.
“He kept emailing me, kept sending me information about all the Carolina Covenant events, kept telling me I had to come back,” Alfaro said. “I finally came in to meet with him just so he’d stop emailing me.”
Alfaro had come to Carolina in the fall of 2004, joining the first class of the newly launched Carolina Covenant, a financial aid and support program for low-income students. The core of the Covenant is a no-loans financial aid offer—a series of grants, scholarships and work-study funding that gives students a chance to graduate without debt.
But as Alfaro found out, the Covenant—which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2014-15—is about more than money. Through academic advisors like Clark, along with designated aid counselors, faculty and staff mentors, and a whole series of events and workshops, the program creates a very personal web of support for scholars.
“Fred finally sat me down in his office and said, ‘Look, you’re going to graduate,’” Alfaro remembered. “He laid out a path, made me look at it, and I did it. By my last semester, I was on the dean’s list.”
“When my daughter is ready for college, she probably won’t need financial aid. The Covenant has made a difference across generations.”-Hope Alfaro
Alfaro’s path through college and the years beyond required patience and resilience. But as a member of the vanguard of Carolina’s most celebrated access program, the last decade has brought her remarkable results.
She has an engaging, highly rewarding job as a market researcher for the Chapel Hill-based Futures Company. She also has a family, a home of her own and the resources to help her mother go back to school for an accounting degree.
“It’s not just about my life,” Alfaro said. “When my daughter is ready for college, she probably won’t need financial aid. The Covenant has made a difference across generations.”
More than 3,000 Covenant Scholars have graduated from UNC since the first class. In the spring of 2015, Alfaro and other Covenant alumni began hosting a regular series of workshops for the newest generation of scholars, passing along the advice, the connections and the reassurance gathered over the past decade.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years,” she said. “I’m thrilled for the chance to give back.”