“You are given a great opportunity here,” says Amy Halder. In fact, you might say that “opportunity” is the middle name of the program she’s describing, the College Opportunity Program at the Outreach Community Center in Carol Stream.

While an undergraduate education may be predetermined for many suburban families, Amy, whose family immigrated from Bangaladesh in 2005, will be the first in her family to attend college. A bright girl and a hard worker, Amy quickly learned English and adjusted to the American school system after they arrived in the States. When it came time to search for colleges, she needed help. She speaks about how the College Opportunity Program (COP) gave her the opportunity she needed.

Help and Guidance

“Without COP I wouldn’t have been informed,” she says. “I had no idea how to complete a FAFSA or apply for scholarships, and my parents couldn’t help because their English is very limited. I was so overwhelmed. If the Community Center wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have performed as well in school as a result of the stress.”

COP has two components: a college prep program for high school students and a college scholarship program for college students. Amy has applied for the college scholarship program and has greatly benefitted from her years in the college prep program.

According to Amy, COP’s ACT prep class, college tours to DC and Florida, and focused time of college researching and applying has been particularly helpful. Mentors also made a huge difference by looking over her application essays and writing recommendation letters. “Gigi and Jillian (COP staff) were always ready to listen and give me advice,” Amy continues. “They are just so helpful. I lost count of how many recommendation letters they wrote for me.”

On Her Way

After all the work and research, Amy graduated from Wheaton North in May 2012 and headed to the University of Illinois at Chicago in fall of the same year. She plans to obtain an undergraduate degree in neuroscience while minoring in Spanish and religious studies, attend medical school, and become a pediatrician or surgeon. “I would love to go back to Bangladesh to practice,” she says. “Ideally I’d like to work in the rural areas where I’m from. Sanitation is not the first priority for kids, and I want to help change health care policies. That’s one of my biggest dreams.”

Amy’s Biggest Cheerleaders

No one is more excited to see her reach her dreams than her parents. “They’ve always motivated me to do well in school,” she says. “When I started taking honors classes, I was able to push myself because they didn’t make me get a job during the school year. They told me now’s the time to focus on my education, and they helped me stay on track. I really want to make them proud.”

And proud they are. “College is a big achievement for our family,” she says. “I know they’ll miss me since I help them pay bills, make appointments, etc. (because they struggle with English), but they’re so excited I have the opportunity to go to UIC. And they’re glad it’s not that far away.”

Carol McCallum, Amy’s Wheaton North guidance counselor, is also quite proud of her. “She is a wonderful young woman with a bright future ahead of her!” she says.

Amy thanks COP for giving her the opportunity to achieve that bright future—and she advises others in her same situation to take advantage of this resource, as well. “Use it wisely and take it seriously,” she says. “Your future hangs in the balance.”