Elon group supports Raleigh girl’s Christmas dream

President Leo Lambert led a group from Elon to talk with a once-homeless girl in Raleigh about her dream of getting a college education. Anneka Hooper's wish has received attention from People magazine, USA Today and CBS News. Details…

Hooper took part in a Salvation Army project led by professional photographer Linda Solomon last October. Solomon asked children in Salvation Army homeless shelters to take photos of their Christmas dreams. The photos were then made into Christmas cards and sold as a fundraiser for the Salvation Army.

Sixth grader Anneka Hooper, who was participating in the project, had her camera with her at the Salvation Army’s Community Center in Raleigh. Center director Chris Kelley, a 1994 Elon alumnus, asked Anneka if she dreamed of going to college. She said “yes” and Kelley brought her into his office to see his Elon diploma mounted on his wall.

“It happened kind of fast,” Kelley said. “I said, ‘take a look at that diploma right there – Elon is a good school.'”

Hooper took a photo of the diploma and it was included in a story in the Dec. 11 edition of People magazine. Hooper was later interviewed about her dream by USA Today newspaper and was flown to New York for an interview with Katie Couric of CBS News.

When Elon President Leo M. Lambert learned about the photo in People magazine and Hooper’s wish, he organized a trip to Raleigh to meet the girl and encourage her dream. Joining Lambert were faculty administrative fellow Deborah Long; Elon senior Shantia Stanley, who is attending Elon on a Watson Scholarship; and Lambert’s wife Laurie and their daughters Callie and Mollie, who are both college students.

“We admire the dream that you have,” Lambert said to Hooper, who met with the group at the Community Shelter on Dec. 21 along with her mother Malinda and two younger sisters. “If you want to go to college, you can go to college. And if you go to high school and get good grades, Elon is looking for students just like you.

“An education is a great thing to wish for,” Lambert told Hooper. “But it’s different from wishing for a computer. Somebody can give you a computer, but we can’t give you an education. That’s something that you earn by sticking with your subjects in school and earning good grades. So if you show us that you can do the work, we’ll make sure you have the opportunity.”

Lambert brought Elon admissions materials for Hooper along with a letter from Susan Klopman, dean of admissions and financial planning, who offered assistance and guidance in Hooper’s preparation for college. “Thank you for putting a college education at the top of your Wish List,” Klopman wrote. “What a great life plan this is! You can do it and we are proud to help you in any way we can.”

Stanley, who is the first person from her family to attend college, told Hooper she should never let lack of money prevent her from pursuing a college education. She gave Hooper a journal and encouraged her to write in it every day and stay focused on excelling in school and achieving her college goal. 

Long told Hooper and her mother about the Elon Academy, an academic enrichment program for talented high school sophomores, juniors and seniors in Alamance-Burlington Schools who may not be considering college because they don’t have the necessary finances. Long said Elon will be inviting Hooper to consider attending the Elon Academy after she finishes ninth grade.

The Lambert family gave the Hooper family a basket full of books and school supplies, a special treat because the meeting took place on Anneka’s 13th birthday. Malinda Hooper said the meeting was “a shocker” and exciting.

“Going to college is something I wanted to do,” Malinda Hooper said. “Elon would be a good college for her. Over the next few years, I’m going to make sure she does the right thing – gets good grades and finishes school.”

Anneka said the meeting made her feel “special and important.” She said Elon is attractive to her. “You can tell they care. This college is so different. I think I want to go to this one. It seems better.”

Read the story in the Dec. 22 edition of the Raleigh News & Observer.

Read the story in the Greensboro News & Record.