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$9000 Awarded to Local Trans Students

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Grand Rapids Trans Foundation awards $9k in scholarships to five local students.

Grand Rapids Trans Foundation

Grand Rapids Trans Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, currently focusing on providing scholarships to individuals who are experiencing financial barriers to their continued education.  They founded in December 2015.


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From left to right: Eric, Beau, Olives, Jason, & Aaminah

From left to right: Eric, Beau, Olives, Jason, & Aaminah /Used with written permission.

For the 2018-2019 cycle, Grand Rapids Trans Foundation (GRTF) is pleased to award a total of $9000 to five local college students. This is the Foundation's third year awarding scholarships. 

GRTF's Academic Scholarship program invests in trans & gender non-conforming individuals by removing financial barriers to education. All applicants must self-identify on the transgender spectrum, demonstrate financial need, and be enrolled in a Kent County post-secondary school.  

The need for such a program is unmistakable. In the U.S., transgender people experience twice the rate of unemployment as the general public, and are four times as likely to have an annual household income of under $10,000.  Additionally, this group remains at high risk for other hardships including rejection, homelessness, lack of healthcare, discrimination, and violence. Not surprisingly, statistics show that obtaining a degree or certificate can positively affect the financial situations of transgender people.

GRTF is seeking to engage with the Grand Rapids community in efforts to foster greater access to education, resources, and financial stability. If you want to help us bolster trans lives, please consider donating here or emailing <[email protected]> to ask about how to sponsor GRTF.


Read more about this year's five chosen applicants below!


Photo of Eric Brink

Eric Brink, he/him pronouns
GVSU, Spanish/Chinese/Criminal Justice 
AWARDED: $2500
"This scholarship will alleviate the stress I am experiencing from funding my education, medical and legal transition, and my everyday life. Even between three jobs, it is hard to make progress when money is a barrier to living authentically. Despite this, I have enjoyed actively participating in many on-campus outreach, advocacy, and community education programs.  
I hope to use my education and outreach experience to forward change in many legal processes, particularly for non-native English speakers, but not excluding people of color, queer people, and every other group that is often beaten by the system. I want to show the world that advocacy can occur at any level in many different ways, and that every step toward change is progress."
 Taylor Ballek
Beau VanSolkema, he/him pronouns
GVSU, Social Work
AWARDED: $2500
"I'm a first-generation student who started college at age 28. I was a high school drop-out. I still struggle with poverty, no family support, and multiple disabilities, including Learning Disabilities. Despite all that, I have managed to further myself with hard work, integrity, and the help of institutions like GRCC and GVSU. I want to advocate for others, which is why being a Social Worker is important to me, along with being a visible trans man. 
My goal is to be a therapist with an emphasis on helping LGBT people build better relationships, cope with trauma, and understand their gender/bodies. After completion of a master’s degree, my long-term goal is to start a non-profit for elderly LGBT."
Photo of Olives Nguyen
Olives Nguyen, they/them pronouns
MSU College of Human Medicine, MD 
AWARDED: $1500
"I'm a non-traditional student on track to becoming an M.D. Being Queer and non-binary hasn't been easy. It's been exhausting, anxiety-producing, and isolating. At the same time, owning my truth has also given me the strength to pursue and push through medical school. Although medical school still has been a challenge (e.g. encountering problematic literature that pathologizes LGBT individuals, not having common language to acknowledge non-binary identities or practices that improve clinical trans health outcomes), beingpresent in these spaces to educate the college administration and my peers is necessary. I continue to push because, for me, medical school is a responsibility. We cannot tolerate being unintentionally or intentionally pushed out of spaces we belong.
With a background in community-organizing, I know that structural changes need to happen for sustainable, positive outcomes. A few colleagues and I have restarted the LGBTQIA Med Group on campus, and am working with the college administration to enhance our education."
Photo of Jason Skalandis
Jason Skalandis, he/him pronouns
GRCC, History 
AWARDED: $1500
"When first attending college over 20 years ago, I was overwhelmed, intimidated, and unprepared. I dropped out before completing. Six years ago, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. That explained a lot and I felt that I didn’t have to try as hard to conform. I began volunteering and started to learn about the world around me. When I realized I was transgender, I found that piece of myself that had been missing, that was holding me back from succeeding. 
Now a non-traditional student, I'm heading back to college part-time. I'm living on disability, and I still actively volunteer. Visibility is important to me, and ultimately I want to teach high school students history that they can connect to, highlighting queer people, people of color, and women."
Photo of Aaminah Shakur.
Aaminah Shakurthey/them pronouns
Kendall College, Art History
AWARDED: $1000
"I identify as Two-Spirit because it is the proper term within my Indigenous tribes to describe genderqueer and non-binary identities.
I'm a non-traditional student (aged 44), mixed race, disabled, and self-supporting. I have benefited from the support of the Grand Rapids Trans Foundation to make it possible for me to remain in school. This is my final year, and I will graduate in May 2019 with a major in Art History and minor in Museum Studies. I am applying to grad schools with a focus on issues of ethics and accessibility for marginalized communities in art spaces. Blending art history and critique of culture, I hope to bring to light the work of more queer, disabled artists of color."
GRTF will begin collecting applications for the next scholarship cycle (2019-2020 academic year) on January 1, 2019.

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