By Eugene J. Patron, communications & marketing director, Point Foundation  @PointFoundation

Peter Lichtenthal

Jorge Valencia, executive director and CEO of Point Foundation (left), accepts a check from Peter Lichtenthal, president of Bumble and bumble, a division of The Estee Lauder Companies.

Today, it is easy for people to name celebrities and sports players who have publicly come out as being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. However, every year during the in-person interviews with finalists for Point Foundation’s LGBTQ higher education scholarships, there are young people who say to the review panel, “This is the first time I have met a group of openly gay professionals.” Many of these bright young people from communities around the country have never been introduced to a gay doctor, a lesbian lawyer, a transgender entrepreneur — people accomplished in the very fields these students hope to study in college and make their career.

The sad truth is that many LGBTQ young people’s aspirations do not include going to college. Nearly one-third of LGBTQ students drop out of high school and, of those who are on track to finish, LGBTQ students are twice as likely to report they do not plan on pursuing a higher education degree, according to research by Lambda Legal and Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

Bullying in school and lack of acceptance and support from families of LGBTQ students are the main culprits behind these troubling statistics. Also relevant is that many LGBTQ young people have few — if any — LGBTQ role models in their lives to provide advice and encouragement.

Point Foundation, the nation’s largest LGBTQ scholarship provider, recognizes that financial assistance is only part of what even very motivated and academically gifted students need. To succeed in college and go on to become accomplished professionals, these students need a network of intergenerational support — an important source of the social capital essential to personal development and career advancement.

Point Foundation matches each of its scholarship recipients with a mentor who is a successful professional and also a prominent and caring member of the LGBTQ and ally community. Mentors assist Point Scholars with professional career decisions, including the pursuit of graduate studies, internship placement and job opportunities after graduation.

Mentors also help scholars design and complete an annual community service project that Point requires of each scholar. In addition to giving back to the community, the service projects provide opportunities for students to learn how to engage with professionals in their field as peers.

Point alumni have gone on to successfully run for public office, win awards as artists and filmmakers, start businesses and begin careers at major corporations. Recognizing the importance of empowering young LGBTQ students through education and the supportive programming Point offers, a growing roster of companies are funding Point’s Named Scholarship program, proudly lending their corporate name to a scholarship. Examples include Toyota Financial Services Point Scholarship, HBO Point Scholarship, Estée Lauder Point Scholarship, Janssen Therapeutics Point Scholarship and Wells Fargo Point Scholarship, among others.

Stephen Lewis, corporate manager, diversity & inclusion, at Toyota Financial Services, explained why his company partners with Point Foundation to help empower LGBTQ students:

“There is no better way for a young person to gain full access to our country’s economic, political and social opportunities than through education. Yet, for too many LGBTQ youth, that dream can seem unattainable. If you take a look at Point Foundation scholars, you will see many young adults who not only have overcome socioeconomic challenges which most of us would find too daunting to tackle, but also they have the added layer of confronting bigotry in school, ostracism from their own families and a lack of social services geared for LGBTQ youth. At Toyota Financial Services, it’s our hope that our support of Point Foundation will help assure these young scholars that they are valued for who they are, and that their uniqueness is an asset, prized in both their communities and in the workplace.”

The application period for the next round of Point Foundation scholarships opens online November 1.