GEAR UP Jefferson County

September 2019 Newsletter

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Partner Spotlight: Lifting as We Climb Foundation

The Lifting as We Climb Foundation of Alabama was founded with the mission "Uplifting, empowering and exposing youth in our community to positive environments and to encourage academic excellence, community service, and health awareness." Their mission is based on the understanding that our future lies in the hands of our youth. Knowing this, they "aim to provide sound positive leadership by example through four basic principles: Manhood, Scholarship, Perseverance and Uplift."

Through the Lifting As We Climb Foundation's Black Rhinos program, GEAR UP students at 3 of our partner schools are able to receive mentoring services. On September, 18, 2019, the Black Rhinos of Alabama hosted the annual kick off event, which included speakers, a college fair, and lunch at Lawson State Community College. The panel of speakers talked about conflict management, adversity, holding oneself accountable, and so much more. The impressive lineup of speakers included a keynote by Mr. Cedrick D. Sparks, the Chief of Staff for the City of Birmingham. Mr. Sparks opened his keynote by identifying 4 youth from the audience and telling them that they have an internship next summer with the city. At the conclusion of his talk, he identified a 5th student. For more information, check out the Black Rhino's website at
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2019-2020 Partner's Identified

On Thursday, September 26, 2019, GEAR UP Jefferson County and Partner organizations came together for a partner meeting. Each partner introduced themselves and shared a bit about their organization, what their role is with GEAR UP Jefferson County, which GEAR UP objective(s) they contribute to, and what makes them laugh. Once everyone had presented, a few participants shared their observations from the introductions. One participant shared that it is clear that the room (and the Zoom teleconference participants) was filled with individuals and organizations that are passionate about young people and their success. Another participant shared that she was happy there were so many organizations focused on mentoring to help address the social-emotional needs of our students. GU-JC is thrilled with the team of partners that has come together to collectively impact the lives of our students and families by providing services that support the goals and objectives of the grant. We are certain our schools are just as excited about these additional opportunities for their children and families.


Goal 1: Increase the successful academic performance, educational expectations, and preparation for/participation in postsecondary education.

Goal 2: Increase student and family knowledge of postsecondary education options, preparation, and financing.


Objective 1: Increase the academic performance and preparation for postsecondary education for GEAR UP students.

Objective 2: Increase the rate of high school graduation and participation in postsecondary education for GEAR UP students.

Objective 3: Increase GEAR UP students’ and their families’ knowledge of postsecondary education options, preparation, and financing.


Jenny Ceesay - Project Director

Jenny is the mother of 4 young men, ages 14 - 22. She passionately believes that we - all of us - should want for all children the opportunities we want for our own children. Jenny grew up experiencing the challenges that families in poverty face. Her mother had an 8th grade education and father had a 5th. Unfortunately, she also experienced domestic violence and drug/alcohol abuse by her father. Fortunately for Jenny, someone saw potential and connected her with the Upward Bound program, a federal department of education college access program that serves low-income, first-generation students to help them meet their potential to succeed in postsecondary. Through the mentorship and guidance of the Upward Bound staff, Jenny learned that she could attend college. Jenny attended Berea College for bachelor's degree in Sociology and Georgetown College for her master's degree in Education.

Jenny comes to us with 20 years of experience in Education and federal grant management, with the last 9 years at Partners for Education at Berea College, where she supervised a portfolio of federal grant programs. In 1999, when Berea College received their first GEAR UP grant, Jenny worked as an office manager for that grant. She then spent 7 years with Madison County Schools as a classroom teacher and as the director of their federal 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant. She then worked for the national nonprofit Save the Children as a literacy specialist, before returning to her roots at Berea College, where one of the programs she supervised was the same Upward Bound program that gave her wings.

Jenny is excited to start the next chapter of her work with the University of Montevallo and GEAR UP Jefferson County.

Laura Howard - Administrative Assistant

Laura Howard is the new administrative assistant for GEAR UP Jefferson County (GU-JC). She grew up in in the Tempe, AZ area but has family ties in Montana, Idaho, Washington, and California. She has a background in consumer banking and small business office management.

Laura values education and believes every person should have equal access to a good education. She tries to live her life remembering the three greatest treasures in life are: simplicity, patience, and compassion. She currently lives with her husband and three children in Alabaster.

About Us

Principal Investigator: Dr. Jennifer Alexiou-Ray

Co-Principal Investigators: Dr. Cassie Raulston, Dr. Amy Samuels, Dr. Greg Samuels, & Dr. Alvin Taylor

Project Director: Jenny Ceesay

Financial Manager: Sharon Hardie

Administrative Assistant: Laura Howard

Area Facilitators:

Chrystal Tolbert Abernathy

Demetrius Castleberry

Tiffany Dukes

Kimberly Johnson