Farris Mitchell Scholarship sets student on path to success
Dezee Virella well remembers receiving the Farris Mitchell Scholarship in 2008.
Then a senior at the High School of Science and Technology, Virella was making plans for college, and heard about the scholarship from one of its founders – Springfield Housing Authority Youth Engagement Coordinator Jimmie Mitchell. Her success at being selected for the $500 gift made all the difference as she began studying that fall at Fayetteville University in North Carolina.
“That scholarship helped me tremendously,” Virella said. “It helped pay for my books at the beginning. It basically helped me get through the beginning and cover a cost that was going to be very expensive for me.”
Now 28, Virella has come a long way. She earned a bachelor degree in marketing and business administration, graduating magna cum laude, and is now poised for a master’s degree in business administration from the same school. She will have that program complete in May.
And she is working as a senior specialist in banking and insurance at the USAA Bank, which provides financial services and insurance for active and retired military personnel, along with their families. Her master’s degree ensures her star will continue to rise there.
Virella said her secret to success boils down to a tremendous work ethic, and a will to always reach for new goals. She met recently with members of the Robinson Gardens Youth Group, which Mitchell runs, and offered advice.
“I would say stay focused, no matter what your obstacles are,” she said. “If you keep your eyes on it, it will happen.”
Virella is the 13th of 27 recipients of the Farris Mitchell Scholarship, launched in 1995 by Jimmie Mitchell and his nine siblings shortly after their father died the prior year. The Farrris and Julia Mitchell raised their children in an SHA family development, Riverview Apartments, where the patriarch was known for his dedication to ensuring that his own children – along with many in the neighborhood – understood the importance of education.
The result was that all the Mitchell children finished high school, and most went on to college. Jimmie Mitchell, the eldest, retired several years ago after a career as an educator, most recently a counselor at Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy.
The scholarship is now funded and run by the SHA, with Mitchell taking the lead in encouraging eligible Springfield high school seniors – they must live in public housing or have an SHA-administered rental assistance voucher – to apply. Each spring, two students are selected for the scholarship, now worth $1,000 each.
Mitchell said Virella was always a standout person. They met as participants in the Entrepreneurial Institute at Springfield Technical Community College. Mitchell received support in his former business running a summer ice cream truck, and Virella ran ‘Dezee’s Personalized Umbrellas’, starting at the young age of 12. She stopped after a few years to focus on her school work and get ready for college, but the determination to do well stuck.
And it was Mitchell who told her about the scholarship, urging her to apply when she was a senior.
Said Mitchell: “Dezee was an amazing person from the first time I met her. I knew she’d do well, and I’m so excited now to see one of our scholarship recipients doing good things in her life. This is really good for our kids now to see. She’s a great example.
“You don’t know how it makes me feel to see her succeeding, with the little bit we gave her,” he added.
Virella, who grew up in a rental assistance subsidy apartment, said she also got a strong push to do well from her mother, Kim Rivera. As the youngest of three children, Virella watched her mother push each child to do their best, and to reach for more and better.
Rivera said, “As parents, we can only hope that our children listen to us. Dezee actually did that. She made it. That all happened because she realized that education is the key.”
Virella now lives in Colorado Springs.
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