DeKalb mother provides foundation of opportunities for high school graduates of single-parent homes

Allison Whiteside is the founder of The Whiteside Foundation, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to ensuring students of single parent homes are presented with an opportunity of a college education through financial assistance. (Photo courtesy Allison Whiteside)

At a recent fundraiser held at a banquet hall in Pine Lake, Georgia, Allision Whiteside rose from her table and approached the podium to applause and cheers.

Grateful for the reception of the audience, Whiteside thanked her guests for their warm response. She made sure to signal most of her attention towards praising the table of eventgoers seated on her left-hand side.

“I want to say that I am so proud of you,” Whiteside said. “And I know you all will be able to achieve anything you want.”

The fundraiser was not a celebration of her but for the guests of honor, 11 incoming college freshmen who were awarded scholarship money ranging from $200 to $1,000.

An entrepreneur and mother of three college graduates, Whiteside is the founder of The Whiteside Foundation, a nonprofit organization that recently celebrated its first school year in helping raise scholarship money and financial awareness for college-bound Dekalb County high school graduates from single-parent homes.

The foundation offers three variations of scholarships:

  • The Whiteside Foundation scholarship, awarded to two graduating seniors at $1,000 each.
  • The Red Lobster scholarship, named after Whiteside’s former place of work and awarded to two seniors at $500 each.
  • The Whiteside Book Scholarship, this year awarded to seven recipients at $200 each to help students cover the pricing of textbooks.

For recipients, the scholarship money is one less obstacle in paying for college supplies and tuition. For Whiteside, the opportunity to advocate for higher education in her community was a journey nearly a lifetime in the making.

Born in Mitchell County, Georgia, Whiteside always envisioned pursuing higher education for herself as a young student. However, after the birth of her eldest child, Penni, at 17, she placed her dream for higher education on hold to dedicate her aspirations to giving her child the best opportunities available.

For Whiteside, this meant relocating from her small hometown of Camilla, Georgia, to Atlanta. In 1986, she settled in Dekalb County, working various jobs to support her daughter.

“When we first got to Atlanta, I put her in school and focused solely on her future,” Whiteside said. “My main goal for her was always that she would be able to go off to college.”

As years progressed, the heavy responsibility of being a single mother raising a family slowly began to soften. Whiteside found stable employment as a waitress at a metro Atlanta Red Lobster location and a more stable home life after marrying her husband Dave, the union producing her two younger children, Victoria and Elliott.

In the early 2000s, despite adjusting to a more comfortable lifestyle compared to when she first relocated to Atlanta, Whiteside, like most parents, was still faced with the financial burdens of higher education after sending her eldest daughter to college at Alabama State University.

“I would talk with lawyers, doctors and professors who would come into the restaurant, and they would offer me advice on what programs to put her in,” the education advocate said. “It paid off. She was able to receive a scholarship to her school.”

Years later, in 2015, Whiteside once again ran into the topic of college expenses after working alongside younger coworkers who had ambitions for higher education but few funds available to afford it.

“A lot of the kids I was working with wanted to go off to college but did not have the money to afford tuition, books or computers,” Whiteside said.

These interactions and preparing to send her younger children off to Dillard and Georgia State University led Whiteside to begin brainstorming the concept of The Whiteside Foundation. One of her immediate visions for the organization was to provide a helping hand to single mothers going through the experience of raising future college graduates.

“All my children went to school on scholarships, and I wanted to help those opportunities forward to other parents’ kids,” Whiteside said. “I didn’t want any single mother to feel the way that I felt, not knowing how they would be able to afford textbooks and computers. I just wanted to have a way to be able to help them out.”

With the advice and assistance from family members, friends, colleagues, and coworkers, Whiteside began to make her dream of helping college-bound Dekalb students and their parents a reality after retiring from Red Lobster in 2020.

Allison Whiteside (center) is photographed with husband Dave, and children Victoria, Elliott, and Penny. (Photo courtesy Allison Whiteside)

After a year spent on development and financing, The Whiteside Foundation opened its application window to ongoing high school seniors in January 2022. Academic eligibility requires potential recipients to be at a 2.7 GPA, a rarity compared to most scholarship opportunities for Georgia students, such as the HOPE Scholarship, which typically requires prospective students to be at 3.0 or higher.

 “I wanted to allow C students to ‘C their way to an A,'” she said. “I wanted them to be able to track their academic growth and progress from high school to college.”

In addition, all prospective recipients were required to be enrolled in a Dekalb County High School, raised in a single-parent household and planning to attend a historically Black college and university, another importance for Whiteside.

“I wanted my children to be able to see a foundation of kids who look like themselves going to school,” she said. “I wanted them to be reminded that if their peers can do it, they can do it too.”

The final step for students was writing an essay explaining to Whiteside and her foundation committee why they chose their potential majors and what they would like to do to contribute to their community after receiving their education. After personally reviewing all the essays submitted by the applicants, Whiteside narrowed down her choices for recipients.

“Originally, I wanted to send two kids off to college with scholarships, and I ended up being able to send eleven kids,” Whiteside said. “I kept hearing God say to me, ‘increase, increase.’ The more people I met, the more donations we received and the more donations we received, the more students we were able to assist.”

Seeing the scholarship recipients at the foundation’s first annual fundraiser this past Saturday brought forth a sense of relief and accomplishment for Whiteside.

“I felt joy,” Whiteside said. “I thought about it and put it to paper, and seeing those kids in their cap and gowns and their ropes was very overwhelming.”

Whiteside and her foundation committee hope to continue their efforts this upcoming school year; the primary goal is to increase fundraising and increase the number of students to whom scholarship money will be granted.

While there is a question among many Generation Z students as to whether pursuing higher education still has the same importance as it did to previous generations, Whiteside disputes the idea that attending college no longer gives students something to gain.

“Education can open doors both for you and other people, and once that knowledge is in your head, it can’t be taken away,” she said. “An education is something that no one can take from you.”