By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published December 10, 2020
ATLANTA—As a single mother, Nathalie Chekoua could not imagine being able to afford a Catholic education in the United States for her son, Jack Tchienchou.
Originally from Cameroon in central Africa, Chekoua attended Catholic school.
“Catholic education means a better academic performance, the discipline, the sense of solidarity, a community based on belief in God and a Christian way of life,” she said.
With the help of GRACE Scholars, Chekoua was able to send her son to St. Pius X High School in Atlanta, where he is a sophomore.
Tchienchou likes the unity and bond he has developed with classmates and fellow football players.
“I like the way my teachers, my coaches and our trainer genuinely care about the students,” he said.
Tchienchou has grown in faith by learning about Catholicism every day at the Atlanta high school. “Being at Pius has pushed me to be the best student I can be.”
“Coming from a public school, I have noticed a total transformation in his work ethic and his character,” said Chekoua. “We are deeply grateful.”
Faith and education come together for hundreds of GRACE scholarship recipients each year.
GRACE Scholars was founded by Cardinal Wilton Gregory, former Archbishop of Atlanta, and Bishop J. Kevin Boland of Savannah in 2008 to take advantage of the student scholarship organization (SSO) tax credit legislation.
A taxpayer donating to GRACE Scholars receives a 100 percent credit against their Georgia income taxes for their contribution. Thirty-four Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Savannah accept GRACE scholarships. All students receiving GRACE awards demonstrate financial need.
“We believe in the value of Catholic education and are grateful to our donors for their assistance in passing along our Catholic faith to a greater number of deserving students,” said Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., of Atlanta and Bishop Stephen D. Parkes of Savannah in a joint statement.
For the 2019-20 school year, 1,169 students received a GRACE award, with more than 320 students receiving the award for the first time. The average scholarship award was more than $3,200. Nearly 50% of award recipients were minority students.
In 2020, there were more than $5 million in contributions made to GRACE Scholars. A married couple filing taxes jointly can contribute up to $2,500 a year. Individuals or heads of households can contribute up to $1,000. Certain small business owners can contribute up to $10,000 for business income taxes.
Lisa Olivarez has been a member of St. Joseph Church in Marietta since she was a little girl, and graduated from the school in 1992. Her nursing career took her to Arizona, where she met her husband. They had four children—Gabriel, Matthew, Isabella and Sophia.
After her husband died in a tragic accident, she moved her family back home to Atlanta.
At Sunday Mass, she kept hearing about the GRACE Scholars program.
“I truly did not think it was something I could do, being a single mom and having four children,” said Olivarez. Feeling the Holy Spirit close to her, she applied and received scholarships for all of her children to attend St. Joseph School.
Catholic education “molded me into the person I am today with a faith that is solid,” said Olivarez. “It means the world to me to be able to provide my children with the same education and the ability to pray and grow with God in their school environment. There is no way to give enough thanks to those who have made it possible for me to give my children a Catholic education—it is invaluable.”
For more information about GRACE Scholars or to register for a 2021 GRACE tax credit, please visit gracescholars.org.