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    How We Afforded It

    These five families believe a Christian education is worth the cost.

    by Tara Ryan Walker

    Ever wonder how you could possibly afford a Christian education for your son or daughter? Don't worry; you're not alone. These five families knew the value of a Christian college, but weren't sure they could afford it.

    Here are their stories.

    Worthwhile Investments

    When their four children were still young, Carrie and Gary Butler of Crown Point, Indiana, decided to teach them the value of a dollar. They wanted them to understand what it meant to earn money and use it for their future. Part of this lesson included expecting them to completely finance their own college education.

    And the plan worked. All four Butler children financed their own educations (including book money and everyday expenses)—three at Cedarville University, and one at the University of Wisconsin. For the three Butler kids who chose Cedarville, a Christian college in Ohio, Gary says, "The cost was high, but we felt it was worth pursuing to reinforce the Christian worldview we had tried to instill in their hearts."

    While they did not financially contribute to their children's educations, Gary and Carrie had other roles. Gary explains that for several years they helped their children deliver papers on their 4 a.m. routes, and they prayed often for their children to make wise money decisions.

    Jennifer Butler Ellis, a 1994 Cedarville graduate, saved money as a kid and applied for dozens of scholarships and grants but still came up several thousand dollars short. In college, Jennifer worked 10 hours a week during the school year and then worked as many hours as possible during the summer. She also saved money by using the CLEP program, which allows students to test out of certain general education classes. She was able to graduate in three years.

    After seeing what his sister accomplished, Bart worked several jobs through high school. By the time he entered Cedarville, he had saved nearly $26,000. He won several scholarships and, like his sister, tested out of 30 credit hours of general education courses. In 1996, Bart graduated with no debt, and after only three years in college.

    Ginger, who graduated in 2004, saved a great deal by working through high school, but not enough to afford the tuition. After applying for dozens of scholarships, she was elated to receive $9,050 in awards for her freshman year alone. She too earned her bachelor's degree in three years with no accumulated debt. And perhaps as important as the money or a degree, Ginger says she gained a strong work ethic from paying for her own education. "Working long hours did a lot to mold my character," Ginger said. "I learned to enjoy hard work, and not to run from it."

    Ginger also learned to spend her money wisely. When her friends were eating out or buying new clothes, she was careful to save most of her money for school. It wasn't always easy to say no when friends were going out, but she stayed focused thanks to family support and by looking at her sacrifices as an investment. Ginger's penny-pinching paid off: She saved enough extra money to study in Israel one summer and at the Focus on the Family Institute in Colorado Springs another summer.

    A Family Education

    Sharon Baldwin-Montgomery of Haddonfield, New Jersey, discovered God can use everyone in a family to provide for needs. As a longtime single mother, Sharon says she wasn't able to save for her daughter's college education. Six years ago, she got married, but still wasn't sure how they'd make Renata's dream of going to a Christian college come true.

    When Renata, now a junior, chose to attend Nyack College in New York, Sharon called a meeting with the family of her daughter's father. At the meeting, Renata's father and stepmother, her paternal grandparents and her aunt and uncle each pledged to give $100 per month for Renata's schooling. "We could all work together because we believe strongly in supporting each other for the benefit of the children," Sharon says.

    Even with this help, Renata has not forgotten her responsibility in helping with her own education. During her senior year in high school, Renata wrote more than 50 scholarship essays and participated in vocal competitions. Her efforts secured her $13,000 in scholarships and grants. She also babysits during the school year and works at a summer camp for children.

    "It's so important to have your child be an active participant in paying for their education and the entire financial process," Sharon said. "We've all learned so many lessons during this—about loans, about how crucial it is to follow up with financial aid personnel, and about having a family that supports one another."

    Strength in Weakness

    When their son Jim, a high school junior, was diagnosed with severe scoliosis in 2000, Patrick and Vickie Gasaway of Covington, Georgia, were greatly concerned about college costs. Patrick had been out of work due to medical problems, and the bills for Jim's surgery and rehab treatments were hitting at the same time their older daughter, Amy, was beginning school at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. Jim planned to start college just two years later.

    "I was very uncertain about sending both Amy and Jim to a Christian college," Vickie says. "What little savings we had were depleted by medical costs. But we felt that if God wanted them at a Christian college, he would provide the means."

    The family first saw God's provision when Amy aggressively pursued and won several sizeable four-year scholarships. As a result, she had only $6,000 in Stafford Loans when she graduated in 2004.

    When Jim, now a senior, started at Toccoa in 2002, someone suggested the Gasaways contact a grant program operated through the State of Georgia's Department of Labor and Vocational Rehabilitation. This program provides scholarships for students who've had major surgery and require physical therapy. Jim applied for and received a $4,000-per-semester Vocational Rehab Grant. Jim also won scholarships and grants totaling $3,200 each semester.

    Even with grants and scholarships, Patrick says, everyday expenses—like cell phone bills, car insurance and gas—keep them on a very tight budget. The family makes their finances work by following a budget and trimming unnecessary expenses.

    "We didn't know how we would afford two children in school at the same time," Patrick says. "In our weakness, though, God showed himself strong."

    Sacrifices Made

    On only one income, Auri and Marciano Velasquez of Chicago, Illinois, could barely make ends meet for their family of five. But still, they wanted to send their oldest daughter, Madelyn, to college.

    "We really can't afford college," says Auri, who has been laid off for three years. "But I stopped attending high school as a freshman, so I wanted Madelyn to go to college so she could be somebody."

    Auri and Marciano made sacrifices to send Madelyn to a nearby business college. But after the first year, Madelyn wanted to transfer to Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana. While Auri and Marciano wanted the best for Madelyn, they wondered how they could ever finance the Christian college's tuition.

    In spite of the cost, they decided to make the financial sacrifices needed so Madelyn could attend Bethel. They took out low-interest loans, Auri sold her car and the family doesn't eat out often. Madelyn helps out with the cost of her education by working part-time at the local Boys & Girls Club. They also rely on extended family. "Madelyn's Aunt Iris always puts together a little care package with personal items and sends it to her," Auri says. "Her Aunt Maria takes her shopping for school supplies and her Uncle Tito packed her things into his van to help her move so we wouldn't need to rent a truck."

    The family's seen God's hand, providence and miracles when money was tightest, Auri says. Last year it looked like Madelyn would have to leave Bethel because the family could no longer afford it, even with all of the sacrifices and teamwork. But the family didn't know that Bethel had nominated Madelyn for a large, need-based minority scholarship funded by a Christian organization called The Mustard Seed Foundation, which she won. Bethel also provided extra funds allowing Madelyn to return to school while only paying a small amount herself. She'll graduate this winter.

    Without God and the way he's used others' generosity, Auri says, Madelyn couldn't have the Christian education she is currently receiving. "I know now it was just meant for Madelyn to go to a Christian college," she says.

    God Will Provide

    As a single mother, Linda Shaull knew she needed to do all she could to help pay for the college education of her three children. She started early by adding $5 a month to an interest-earning savings account for each of them.

    As the three balances grew, Linda combined the three accounts and placed the money into a time deposit (TD) account that earns a better rate of interest but is untouchable for a predetermined amount of time. At the end of each time period, Linda would add the new balances of the kids' accounts to the TD's lump sum and put it into another TD.

    As her children got older, Linda realized she could guarantee each of them $5,000 for their education. This amount went a long way for her two kids who chose community college. But when Amy, now a sophomore, chose to attend Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California, Linda knew her savings would not make much of a dent in the Christian college's tuition.

    To do her part, Amy went to work filling out applications for many scholarships and grants. Her efforts won approximately $14,000 in awards. Still, they ended up about $5,000 short on affording the first year at Azusa.

    Not knowing what else to do, Linda decided to take out a home equity loan. She also continued to pray for God's help and guidance in knowing how to best pay for her daughter's financial needs. Before she even applied for the loan, she says, God relieved some of the burden.

    "Amy called me at work one day and asked if I had lunch plans," Linda says. "We met, and then she told me that she got a letter from the state explaining they had increased her grant money by about $1,500. We both started crying!" Amy explained to her mom that the grant money awarded to her (based on her FAFSA information) was upped because the state passed a higher education budget than expected. Although she still had to take out a loan for about $3,500, Linda thanked God she didn't have to borrow more.

    "I've gone to God so many times in my life with requests," she says. "And I have had to accept 'no' many times. I got discouraged. Lately, I realized why the answer was no: I try to do things the way I think they should be done. I have learned a new version of the catch phrase 'where there's a will, there's a way.' Now I say, 'if it is God's will, he will provide the way.'"