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Wenonah High’s Justin Smith Found His Passion Through Ed Foundation

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By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times

Since he was in the seventh grade, Justin Smith, now an 18-year-old Wenonah High School senior, has been under the wings of the Birmingham Education Foundation, commonly called Ed.

The organization has opened doors to conferences and empowerment sessions, where he and his peers have had opportunities to learn about entrepreneurship and college prep—and develop relationships that have endured through middle school and high school.

“Let’s not forget to mention the constant … pop-ups that they would do here for us and the many times they check in on us. They’ve connected me with different people that help me with resumes,” said Smith, pointing to the support Ed provides students on their journey to and through the college-prep process, as well as the College Choice Foundation (CCF), a nonprofit organization created to help high-achieving and academically talented students from low-income families apply for college and find an institution that is the best fit.

Find Your Passion

Ed made Smith more confident during his time at Phillips Academy, he said, especially in regard to causes he feels strongly about.

“I don’t think I’ve ever really been the quiet type … because I’m an activist, but I never really geared up and felt passionate about [my activism] until I got involved with Birmingham Ed,” he said.

During middle school, Smith attended several Ed-sponsored programs, where he received information about building a business, setting up a nonprofit, and doing community outreach—and he still has a folder with these papers.

“It’s crazy because so many people don’t realize the true power something like that has on a middle schooler,” he said. “Those same folders and papers still play a big role in my life.”

Smith added, “In high school, I pretty much got the full Ed experience. I was able to go directly to people for help with college stuff, … and that has been a tremendous help. They helped me with college applications and a new resume.”

“Help Is Out There”

J.W. Carpenter, Birmingham Ed Foundation executive director (Provided Photo)

Students shouldn’t be afraid to reach out or walk up to someone—such as Ed Executive Director J.W. Carpenter—introduce themselves and ask for help.

“Don’t be afraid. Help is out there for us,” said Smith, who also is grateful to CCF President Josephine Lowery.

“[She] texts me every morning. She makes sure my resume is OK. … She and Mr. Carpenter have connected me with different individuals from colleges, … people I honestly would have never been able to meet,” Smith said.

Helpful Hints

Carpenter offers a few helpful tips: “Meet with your counselor and a teacher at your school; … just find an adult at school who is fired up for you. … Go straight to [college] websites because they have tons of great information. … Stop by the admissions office at schools—the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Miles College, Birmingham Southern—knock on the door and say, ‘I need some help. I want a tour.’ … And feel free to reach out to me. I am here to help.”

The Birmingham Education Foundation (Ed) is located at BCS Professional Development, Lincoln Center, 901 9th Ave. N., Birmingham, AL 35204. For more information, visit edbirmingham.org, email info@edbirmingham.org, or call 205-582-8740.

Click one of the links below to read more stories about College Prep.

The Education of Jay Johnson, Founder of College Prep U

How Alabama Possible Makes Higher Education a Reality

Parents GEAR UP for College Just as Much as Students