Melissa Alderfer is a 31-year-old South Philly mother who wants to help low-income parents go to college. She’s hoping you’ll vote for her at the Pepsi Refresh Project, a competition that could award Alderfer $25,000 to help subsidize education in our own backyard.
“I saw an advertisement on TV for the Pepsi Refresh Challenge and checked out the website to see what it was all about. I am a student at Drexel, have a full-time job, and a 12-year-old daughter, so I never really have ‘extra’ time or money,” says Alderfer, who’s girlfriend Jessica Cubbiciotti is perhaps better known in Philly’s LGBT community as DJ Just Jess.
Alderfer say the project is close to her heart as a young mother who has long struggled with the financial demands of education and parenting. “I had my daughter when I was 18 years old and going to college was never something I considered after finding out I was pregnant my senior year of high school,” she admits. “Once my daughter was a little older, I started thinking about going to college more and more, but was worried about whether or not it was possible to find the time and money since I was already struggling to live on my own with my young daughter.”
Cubbiciotti says she’s seen what her girlfriend goes through up close and personally as she navigates work, school and being a parent. “I have seen her work so hard to go to college herself,” says Cubbiciotti, “and still, she tries so hard to give back to other mothers that are also trying to raise a child and make it through school.”
Alderfer first enrolled at Community College of Philadelphia a few years ago thanks to a scholarship that covered the cost of an associate’s degree for single mothers and fathers who had been out of school for at least several years. “I submitted my essay and found out several weeks later that I had won,” says Alderfer. “I will never forget that phone call because my daughter was standing there with me when I saw [scholarship manager] Patricia Conroy’s number on my caller ID. As soon as I told Kaila I won we were both jumping around and screaming.”
The excitement she felt that day is exactly what she would like other parents to experience. “Education is the gift that keeps on giving,” she says. “It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the number of families living in poverty. But education – specifically a college degree – is something that cannot be lost or taken away. If I can provide someone with the financial means to attain a college degree, then they will benefit in the long term.”
She’s also hoping parents can be great examples for their kids. “It has been proven that children are much more likely to attend college if their parents did,” she says. “So, this money will not only benefit the person whose tuition is being covered, but it will also benefit their children. And these parents will also be able to find higher paying jobs.”
If Alderfer wins the prize money, she already knows how to dole it out. “Each class at CCP is around $375 with the basic financial aid for a single mother that covers a portion of the tuition,” she says. “The remainder of their tuition and cost of books will be covered by the scholarship for as long as they are attending CCP. And any graduating students from CCP will be able to transfer credits if they decide to go on to another college. Drexel University, where I am currently a student, transferred every single class that I took at CCP. Now, I graduate in less than a year.”
Vote for Alderfer’s project here now through the end of June.