HAMMOND | Jennifer Pepin told residents Thursday at Morton High School that the city's College Bound program has saved her life.
Pepin, 19, a freshman at Purdue University-Calumet, said the scholarship pays for her tuition. She said her family is currently tight on money because of medical expenses.
"This is one less expense that is not going to burden us," she said.
Pepin was among residents at the school's auditorium to discuss a possible 10-year extension of the College Bound Program, which provides scholarships to Hammond residents. Almost all attending supported expansion, and many had children enrolled in the program.
Others who spoke during the meeting said they were counting on the scholarship when it was time to send their children to college.
One woman said she thinks the program has changed the culture of the city because more people are attending college. Her daughter is one of those scholarship recipients.
Another woman told the crowd that she is a single mother and didn't realize the program was only funded for 10 years. Her daughter is in high school and wants to attend Purdue University-Calumet.
"I really need this program," she said.
The program is funded through casino revenue and will expire at the end of the 2015-2016 school year. Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. has said he wants to continue his signature program but wants to find an alternative source of funding.
He said at the meeting that he doesn't consider revenue from the Horseshoe Casino a stable source of funding.
"If Horseshoe Casino were to burn down, we wouldn't have this program," McDermott said.
McDermott said people have come forward to make donations but none are large enough to fully fund the program. He said the city is looking at using revenue from water it is selling to the south suburbs.
"This is our future, it's the Hammond water company," he said. "It makes money."
Since the program began, 1,226 students of Hammond homeowners have received scholarships. Students receive scholarship money for four years if they have met certain academic requirements.
The city will have another forum about the program Nov. 21 in the cafeteria of Edison Elementary School and Jan. 8 at the Lost Marsh Golf Course. The forums will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.