By Kosha Oswald – Collegiate Staff
A new Grand Rapids Trans Foundation scholarship founded by a Grand Rapids Community College employee is helping transgender students in Kent County secure funding for college.
The foundation, founded last December by Simon Kittok, offers financial support to transgender people in the community. The foundation offers an annual $2,500 scholarship to a low-income transgender student of Kent County.
“We started the foundation to help provide some financial stability for the transgender community,” Kittok said.
The foundation has three board members, Felicia Staring, Misha VanVaerenbergh, and Simon Kittok. While there are only three board members currently, they plan to expand the board and bring people in who can offer a more diverse experience at some point.
The foundation receives donations and holds fundraisers for the scholarship and Kittok is hoping to soon be able to offer more to the students.
“My favorite part of the foundation is getting to meet a lot of philanthropic people in Grand Rapids,” Kittok said. “It’s nice that we have been received fairly well among the community.”
To spread the word about the scholarship, the foundation calls schools in the Kent County area to have them post it on their scholarship boards. They also advertise more about the scholarship and other events on Twitter and Facebook.
The first scholarship was awarded to Kendall College student Aaminah Shakur in July.
“Helping people feels good,” Kittok said. “It’s great to be able to help through this scholarship and provide some stability.”
Kittok is also the advisor for StandOut, a LGBTQQA+ student organization on GRCC’s campus.
“It’s a great space for students to feel safe and is like a second family to most of them,” Kittok said.
StandOut meets from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m on Wednesdays, in room 306 of GRCC’s Main Building. The meetings consist of open discussions about personal struggles, class struggles, or anything else the members feel comfortable talking about.
StandOut President, Beau VanSolkema, said, “It is a safe place for students and their allies as well as a way to raise awareness about the struggles that members of the LGBTQQA+ community face daily.”
“My favorite part of the group is that more and more students are coming to the meetings,” VanSolkema said. “It’s great to see the safe place that Simon and I have worked hard to create, grow. It’s also great to see the members of the group grow and become more comfortable with who they are.”
On Oct. 17, StandOut will host an event to honor trans lives that were lost to suicide and hate crimes. This event will also serve to provide support and offer resources to those currently struggling.
“We are hoping to raise awareness and educate the public on what it means to be trans,” VanSolkema said.
They are also currently working on flyers to put up around campus advertising StandOut so that the students can be more involved.
“I want students and community members to know they don’t have to hide who they are,” VanSolkema said.