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Former Sen. William Marovitz, local residents help teen attend Ivy League school

David Peake left JasRoberts

David Peake, left, and Jason Roberts

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Updated: October 18, 2013 6:24AM

Jason Roberts has a lot of angels.

And thanks to them, the Urban Prep Academy graduate is now attending the University of Pennsylvania.

After reading about Jason, Sun-Times readers helped raise $22,000 to help defray the annual $60,000 tuition costs at the Ivy League university. Some people wanted to remain anonymous. Other benefactors wanted to keep up with Jason’s progress. All of the people wanted the young man to be successful.

“It is truly astonishing the amount of support I received at a time when I needed it the most,” he said in an email.

Although swamped with classroom work, Jason wants Chicago to know how excited he is about being on UPenn’s campus.

“The University of Pennsylvania, like Chicago, is a great community with many, many opportunities literally around every corner. I feel at home here,” he said.

Former Illinois State Sen. William Marovitz read about Jason and arranged to meet him and his family before undertaking an effort to help Jason raise the financial aid.

“I took Jason out for the afternoon. We had lunch and talked about his experiences at home living with a single mother who is going through breast cancer. I talked to him about not getting any direction from his father, and how he stayed away from the gangs” Marovitz told me.

“I asked him, Jason what would you like to do with your life? ‘I am going to cure cancer. I watched my mother struggle with breast cancer and I’m going to cure cancer.’ ”

That answer blew Marovitz away.

“I have become his mentor, his godfather,” he said.

Besides serving nearly two decades in the General Assembly, Marovitz is a successful businessman. In 2011, he made news when he settled a civil suit brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which had accused him of insider trading.

Marovitz remains a Democratic Party leader in Illinois and has political contacts across the country.

In his search to find Jason college aid, he worked with U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Chicago) and the United Negro College Fund.

“One of the other people very helpful was former [Pennsylvania] Gov. Ed Rendell,” Marovitz told me. “I sent him all the materials and spoke to him on several occasions.”

Marovitz said he encouraged Rendell to do a “mitzvah,” a Jewish word that means “worthy” or “good deed.”

“If you can do a little mitzvah or good deed, you can go to bed at night feeling like you have done something fruitful,” Marovitz explained.

“Rendell called the University of Pennsylvania and spoke to the people at the financial aid department.

“[Jason] is a brilliant young man and shame on us if we can’t give somebody like him a chance,” Marovitz said.

Additionally, Jason is reaping what he has sown.

When a close classmate became homeless, Jason begged his mother to take the teen in so that he could finish his senior year at Urban Prep.

That friend, David Peake, ended up getting a full-ride Gates Millennium Scholarship to Georgetown University while Jason had to worry about how his mother was going to pay for college.

After Chicagoans learned about Jason’s plight, they asked how they could help. When Jan Roberts, Jason’s mother, set up a special bank account for the teen, money poured in.

“It is moments like this that foster hope and demonstrate what God would have us do (love thy neighbor),” wrote Jan Roberts in a thank-you prayer.

Last week, the University of Pennsylvania, which had denied Jason’s earlier requests for financial assistance, notified Marovitz that Jason would receive $40,000 in financial aid each year.

“It made me feel good that I am able to help Jason,” Marovitz said. “This is a kid who fell between the cracks. But this is what the scholarship system and endowment system is all about.”

Most of us tell our kids if they work hard, stay out of trouble, and earn top grades, they will get into a good college.

What we don’t tell them is how much it will cost. If we did, many of the scholars wouldn’t even try, given the financial hardships they witness.

Hopefully, Jason’s story will encourage them not to give up.

When we do good, good still happens.


Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST

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