Friday 18 April 2014
Brad Guzan has hailed his club's new scheme to help local students meet the costs of their university education as a "fantastic opportunity to be part of the Aston Villa family".
"It's a fantastic opportunity for them to be part of the Aston Villa family"
The AVFC Citizenship and Scholarship Award has been designed to help local students meet the costs of their university education. It aims to assist 28 young people from financially challenged backgrounds over the next three years in attending the University of Birmingham as an extension of their successful "Access 2 Birmingham" (A2B) scheme.
The scholars, who are all first-generation university students, are to be selected from a pool of more than 450 students who will be involved in Villa's pioneering programme. The first 10 hopefuls were chosen this year and were presented with commemorative certificates Guzan this month.
"It's very rewarding to see the smiles and the opportunities given to these kids to continue their education," Guzan said. "It's a fantastic opportunity for them to be part of the Aston Villa family.
"These are the types of engagements that you enjoy doing as a professional footballer because you see the benefits of it what it means to the students. Regardless of financial backgrounds or family backgrounds they're all given an opportunity courtesy of Aston Villa and that’s what the club is all about."
As someone whose first big break came when he was afforded the opportunity to enjoy higher education and further his sporting career Guzan knows all too well the importance of initiatives such as these that give talented youngsters a helping hand.
"The chance that Villa have given me is phenomenal"
"When I was 17 I was given a scholarship to go to university and continue my education and play football," he said. "Without that I don't know if my career would be where it is today. I know what it means to receive a scholarship and how you have to go about pursuing your goals and your dreams. You have to continue to fight, whether you want to be a footballer, a lawyer a doctor or whatever else. Today is giving them the platform to do that."
One of the scholars, Matthew Wilkes, from Lozells, was delighted to have been granted his big chance with the AVFC Citizenship and Scholarship Award.
"I've supported Villa since the day I was born," said the 18-year-old, who is going to study chemical engineering. "To be one of the first scholars on this scheme is brilliant, I still can't believe that I'm part of it. The chance to get some financial aid in my bid for higher education is really incredible.
"Words can't describe how appreciative I am of this scheme and how it is going to help me in my university career because money is a bit tight and I don't want to financially burden my parents. I want to do it on my own. The chance that Villa have given me is phenomenal."
All the scholars in the Citizenship and Scholarship program will also participate in Villa community schemes to gain experience in the many areas that the club work in. The main focus for their volunteer work will be with young people through schemes such as Premier League 4 Sport, which encourages children into sport as part of the London 2012 Olympics legacy, and Villa Vitality, which promotes health and wellbeing through nutrition.
Those who do not benefit from the scholarship aspect of the scheme will be offered citizenship opportunities through volunteering, with the aim to involve over 450 students in the next three years.
"The cost of attending university has increased in the past few years, a cost that could dissuade young people with huge potential from pursuing their dreams of further education," Ravinder Masih, head of Villa in the Community, said. "With the Citizenship and Scholarship Award, we aim to positively change the lives of young people from Birmingham who have been high-achievers in their academic life but would struggle to afford higher education.
"They will be involved in our community projects, too, gaining invaluable experience and augmenting their employment prospects and personal development. This is the first scheme of its kind in the Premier League and it’s something we, as a club, are very proud to be involved with."