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North Country college students rally for education funding

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More than a thousand college students from low-income backgrounds converged on Albany yesterday. As Jonathan Brown reports, they lobbied state legislators and rallied for the assistance programs that help pay their tuition and living expenses.

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Epiphany McGee is a St Lawrence University sophomore, majoring in English and Sociology. She said yesterday's events at the capitol were simply amazing, "You have students from all over New York, rallying to keep HEOP. The best part is when we get the chance to go up and tell our story."

The stories students like McGee tell lawmakers are eye-opening. McGee says without programs like HEOP, she wouldn't be a college student - just another statistic. "My mom is a single parent of five children. She has fibromyalgia which is a muscle disease. And my dad's in prison for life. So... there are times when we've been without food, without electricity, an apartment, place to live."

For all that, McGee sounds like a seasoned lobbyist, "I visited with Addie, DeDe, and I just had a roundtable discussion with Daniel DeCorey."

That's Addie Russell, Democratic Assemblywoman from the 118th District in Jefferson and St Lawrence Counties; DeDe Scozzafava, the Republican Assemblywoman representing the 122nd District in Gouverneur; and Daniel DeCorey is an advisor to Governor David Paterson.

SLU freshman Jasmine Garcia went to Albany yesterday to lobby for C-STEP - she says the mentoring program fills the role of a parent - a position she said was left vacant in her life. "Basically, I'm independent and I live by myself. Before high school, I wasn't planning on going to college."

Garcia credits the C-STEP program with helping get used to the university climate. "We're not up to the level everybody else should be at so if you're getting tutoring they kind of treat like you're an idiot sometimes or they don't really want to help because they think you should already be at that level cause they don't understand. They come from a privileged background, they took AP classes. But HEOP accepts students who didn't do so good in high school. CSTEP -- they understand where we're coming from."

Diomedes Gonzalez also made the trip to Albany yesterday. He's a student from the Bronx who expects to graduate Clarkson University with a degree in mechanical engineering. But he says he's now developing a taste for politics, "Well this whole year has inspire me within politics - the whole new change with the new President and coming here today that's just added even more to it. It's even given me more motivation to just continue working as hard as I can so in the future I can come back and say that I was part of a successful program and look where I'm at because of that program."

Jonathan Brown asked: Should we look for your name on a ballot someday in the future? You think you're going to run for public office?" Gonzalez laughed and replied,"You never know, you never know. That might be a possibility."

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