When Felicia Curcuru came to Penn in 2003, she probably expected to graduate with a few best friends. She didn’t expect to leave campus with a sister.
Ten years later, one of her college extracurriculars brought a young girl from West Philadelphia out to live with her in California. In 2006, as a Wharton senior, Felicia went to lunch with a friend who suggested she get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters — a student organization and mentorship program that connects Penn students with students from local schools.
Felicia filled out the online application and went to the necessary interviews. When asked what preferences she had on who she would be matched with, she responded that she wanted a girl who was smart and had a lot of potential. “They definitely paired me with that type of person,” said Felicia of her “little sister,” Ashana Davenport. At the time, Ashana was 10 years old and Felicia was 20.
Over the course of the year, Felicia would go to Ashana’s school during recess to play and hang out. “That was the extent of the program,” said Felicia. “But we quickly hit it off and I wanted to do stuff outside of the program.”
Felicia then invited Ashana to dinners downtown and had Ashana come visit her at Penn. She and Ashana developed a “really special connection” — one that stuck even after Felicia graduated in May 2007.
Though it was hard to stay in touch — Felicia spent her first year after graduation abroad — as soon as she was stateside again, she invited Ashana to come visit her in Florida, where she had begun working for the consulting firm McKinsey.
After flying Ashana out to visit her again when she moved to Texas, Felicia moved back to Philadelphia for a brief time in 2011 and redeveloped the relationship she had kept via phone calls with Ashana for all those years.
When Felicia moved to San Francisco to work for an online venture capital firm, she continued to talk to Ashana when she could. This January, Ashana told her that she had dropped out of high school, had suffered a stint with homelessness and was struggling with problems at home.
Felicia offered to fly Ashana out to San Francisco to take her mind off of things, expecting the visit to last about three weeks. When Ashana arrived in February, Felicia exposed her to life in the city, including tours of 20-plus tech companies in the Silicon Valley.
“She just loved it,” said Felicia. “She could tell that everyone enjoyed their jobs, that they were paid well … she told me her dream job was to work at Google!” Along with tech companies, Ashana also visited Berkeley’s campus, a trip Felicia said was a pivotal moment for her little sister. “It wasn’t me telling her she should go to college, it was her realizing she wanted it.”
Ashana asked Felicia if she could move in with her, and the three week visit turned in to a six month homestay. The deal was that Ashana could move in, but she was going to have to make a plan and go to college in the fall.
Over the course of the next three months, the ultimatum pushed Ashana to finish her GED, receive her high school diploma by taking classes at community college and take the SATs. By June, Ashana was applying to colleges. By July, she had been accepted to a number of schools, including her first choice, the University of San Francisco.
Ashana spent her free time working two different internships and teaching herself how to code. Throughout the process of completing her GED, receiving her diploma and taking the SATs, Ashana interned part-time at Learn Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in education startups. After finishing college applications, she took a full-time internship at Black Girls Code, a non-profit that helps minority girls learn to code and do robotics. These experiences — working the two internships and touring the different tech giants — got Ashana interested in the industry herself, so much so that she intends to major in Computer Science.
The only thing standing in Ashana’s way from achieving that goal is the financial burden of attending college. The gap between the financial aid award she received and the total tuition cost is $78,000. To combat this, Felicia and Ashana established an indiegogo video campaign to raise money for Ashana’s tuition through donations. The campaign has received over $8,000 since August 8 and will be open to donors until September 22.
“The indiegogo campaign is astonishing. The goal was $2,000 and to see it close to $10,000 now is mind blowing,” Ashana said. “People saw my video and believed in me just because of that. I feel like I want to give everyone a big hug.”
While Felicia helped her little sister along the way, she emphasized that the successes of this story are Ashana’s alone.
“I feel like most people would do [the things I’ve done] for their family — and she’s kind of like family to me at this point,” Felicia said. “She’s just such a lovable girl. Really, really quick and smart. Everyone who meets her is struck by how much potential she has. She’s already accomplished so much, there’s no doubt in my mind that she will go on to do great things.”
And when asked where she saw herself down the line, Ashana responded in a way that showed Felicia’s intuition about her sister would prove to be right.
“I don’t know where exactly I’ll be,” Ashana said. “But what I do know is that I want this computer science degree, absolutely. And I do want to keep working with Black Girls Code or a similar company. Because I believe in giving other people the opportunity that I have been given.”
To donate to Ashana’s college education, go to the indiegogo page.
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