During her junior year of high school, Kevonna Stevens’ house caught on fire, causing her family to relocate farther from her Pittsburgh-area school.
It stretched her morning commute to Perry Traditional Academy to an hour and a half. Every day, she woke up at 4:30 a.m. and walked 30 minutes to catch a local bus, which would take her to downtown Pittsburgh. From there, she’d ride a school bus 30 minutes to school. After school, she would often work at a Burger King until 11 p.m.
“It was hard,” Stevens said. “Growing up, I was not as financially stable as other kids. I couldn’t go out every weekend. … I had to do it.”
Midway through this semester, the Fox School of Business freshman was notified that she would be unable to register for classes and live on Main Campus until she paid for her housing at the Edge, an off-campus residential complex Temple has a lease with.
The news of her financial hold came as a shock to Stevens and her family, who thought they paid for housing as part of the cost of tuition. Her financial aid covered her tuition, but it didn’t cover housing.
“It was disappointing,” Stevens said. “Because I thought that I would have to leave this semester. … I would have to go to community college, and that was the last thing that my mom wanted for me. That’s the last thing I wanted for myself.”
While contemplating her situation, Stevens was reminded of Jason Boll, her high school English teacher. He recommended that she apply to Temple and helped her with her college application. She thought Boll could give her advice.
Last month, Boll, who studied journalism at Temple in the early 2000s, created a GoFundMe page to raise money to pay Stevens’ housing bill. It exceeded the $7,500 goal by more than $1,000.
In high school, Stevens would spend some lunch periods with Boll, talking about everything from her experiences in school, to college, to her goals in life.
“Students like to talk, and they like to listen and sometimes share what they are going through,” Boll said. “Sometimes all it takes is listening.”
Stevens said Boll always pushed her to work harder in school and that he was one of the most caring teachers she had.
“Mr. Boll cared for my future,” Stevens said. “He’s just a really great teacher, period. He really cares for my well-being, and any child’s well being that he teaches.”
As she updated Boll about her college experiences through text messages, she mentioned that although everything was going well, she might have to leave school due to financial issues.
After exhausting other options, Boll asked if he could create a GoFundMe page on her behalf.
“We had looked at all the possible ways to raise money, to talk to financial aid, Kevonna had done all that work on her own,” Boll said. “But it didn’t work. … I’m not an expert or anything in this. We just decided to try GoFundMe.”
The starting goal was $3,500, a payment for one semester. If this was achieved, they would try to achieve the $7,500 necessary for both semesters and any other expenses.
“I thought it would work, I just didn’t think it would work as quickly as it did,” Stevens said.
In one week, the fundraiser achieved and surpassed both goals.
“When I saw that she actually made the $8,500, I just thanked God and cried because this meant the world to Kevonna and myself,” said Stevens’ mother, Tamaka Stevens.
Kevonna Stevens said this not only gives her the ability to stay in school, but also to work on securing funds for the future. She currently works 35 hours a week at Burger King on Broad Street near Cecil B. Moore Avenue to save money. She also constantly searches and applies for scholarships.
“It made me think differently about people,” she said. “It definitely changed my outlook. People I didn’t even know were donating $500. I’m really grateful.”
Kevonna Stevens has always had an insatiable curiosity and passion for learning. She was the valedictorian in both middle school and high school.
On top of school work, she balanced performing with her school’s dance team and working several hours each week.
“Kevonna definitely stands out,” said Stephanie Byars, Kevonna Stevens’ high school Spanish teacher. “I had a student the other day say flat out, ‘I want to be like Kevonna by the time I get to 12th grade.’ … She saw something in Kevonna worth emulating.”
Kevonna Stevens is interested in eventually owning her own business. This comes from a desire to direct her future and work for herself rather than an employer, she said.
Although the GoFundMe was a success, she does not think that she will try fundraising again.
“People have already helped me,” Kevonna Stevens said. “To ask again would be asking too much.”
Kevonna Stevens plans to continue working and looking for scholarships to cover her housing costs in the future.
But Boll is glad he was able to help his former student.
“People were touched by the story more than I thought they would be,” Boll said. “She’s a remarkable person. … I would always tell her that she floats, she rises to the top. She helped the classroom get better, she helped me get better.”