Aid from Multiple Sources Pulls Student out of Homelessness

Nicholas Coleman 

BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— Nicholas Coleman wants high school students to know that if they come from a hard-knock background, that doesn’t mean they’ll have a hard life. At least, it doesn’t have to.

Coleman should know. For a couple of years in middle school, Coleman didn’t have a home. No one at school knew it. He hid his plight by asking friends if he could stay the night at their homes. Other nights, he and his dad crashed at his grandparents.

Fortunately for Coleman, he had an aunt who knew the situation and tried for years to make things better. Coleman can tell you the date it all changed for him — Aug. 16, 2010 — when he went to live with his Aunt Vicki and her partner. When it came time for high school, Aunt Vicki decided that St. Patrick High School, a 45-minute drive from their home in the Chicagoland suburb of Berwyn, was the smarter choice for the academically talented Coleman. A scholarship paid for the private school’s tuition.

With the stable home life he’d longed for, Coleman thrived in high school. On the basketball court, he made all-state and all-conference. His teammates elected him captain and “Most Valuable Player.” Off the court, he was named to National Honor Society and began to think about college, where he knew he wanted to keep playing basketball.

Illinois Wesleyan Assistant Basketball Coach Pat Marino had also gone to St. Patrick High and connected with Coleman. Then Head Coach Ron Rose came to a few of Coleman’s high school games. Coleman visited Illinois Wesleyan and liked the campus, but he was also considering Elmhurst, Carthage and DePauw.

Nicholas in actionThe success of the men's basketball program, in addition to Illinois Wesleyan's strong academics and affordability, weighed heavily in Nicholas Coleman's decision to become a Titan.

The deciding factors were money, convenience in getting back home, and the prestige of the school, its accounting major, and its basketball program. Illinois Wesleyan’s CPA pass rates impressed him. On the court, “I like to win, and IWU is known for winning,” said Coleman. Coach Rose also made a big impression on Coleman, who says Rose “wants to make every player better, not just on the court but as a man. That had a huge impact.”

So much so, Coleman says Rose, who knew about Coleman’s family history and financial background, wouldn’t allow him to commit to IWU until his total financial aid package was extended. “Coach helped me to make sure I made the right decision,” said Coleman.

Faculty, staff members and even alumni have also extended themselves to help Coleman, who is majoring in accounting. Coleman said Jerry Olson, chair of the accounting department, met Coleman early on and has advised him on which classes and internship opportunities to consider. Financial Aid staffers, especially Director Scott Seibring, “explains everything and if he needs to explain it a different way, he makes sure I understand and that my aunt understands, too,” Coleman said. In addition, Coleman’s private scholarship from the HEAR Foundation provides a mentoring opportunity; his mentor is Matt Pankau, a 2014 graduate of Illinois Wesleyan who now works at State Farm Insurance.

Nearing the end of his sophomore year, Coleman said “this is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life so far. Every day I’m here I smile.”

And he makes sure to pass that important message along to the next generation. His middle school guidance counselor has arranged for Coleman to visit his old school to talk about his personal experiences. “I told the kids that just because your background may not be the easiest, you can still have a good life. You can still go to a really good college like I do. You can change your life. But you have to want it and make it happen.”