Pay it forward


DeKalb man helps students without mothers


DeKalb County’s Don Roman knows firsthand the pain of losing a loved one at an early age. That’s why Roman is dedicating his time and resources to help others in similar situations.

 Roman, 69, of Stone Mountain, is the board chair for the nonprofit group Students Without Mothers. The organization, founded by Mary Williams in 2004, provides scholarships to students who have lost their mother.

 In part, Roman got involved with the organization due to his own personal experience. At age 12, his mother died while giving birth. The experience was life-changing, he said.

 “It was very traumatic frankly. My mother was really the foundation for my family. She was a single parent raising five children,” Roman said. “She died in childbirth delivering a sixth child. My siblings and I were really cast adrift without that anchor.”


 Roman said that portion of his life was “emotionally draining.” Without the support of teachers and community members Roman said his life could have turned out differently.

 In April, Roman held a scholarship fundraiser in Atlanta. The fundraiser raised more than $50,000 for Students Without Mothers. The event was a “roast” celebrating Roman’s retirement with guests such as former DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis and judge Glenda Hatchett.

 According to the organization, Students Without Mothers has provided 63 students with four-year scholarships in the amount of $4,000 each. Roughly $1,000 is disbursed annually as long as the students continue to meet the requirements to remain in the program.

 Roman said the scholarships are not based on academics, but rather the students’ needs.


 “I tell [students] to continue to dream. Continue to strive and be the best that they can be. Don’t let this tragedy define the rest of your life,” Roman said. “It’s one of the worst experiences that you can go through, but it doesn’t have to rob you of your future.”

 Roman said Students Without Mothers still has room to grow. The organization can only accept a fraction of the applicants they receive, he said. The organization receives roughly 30-40 applications each year.

 Scholarship winners are also required to participate in the organization’s life coaching program. The program is geared toward helping students make the “best choices” as they plan for the future.

 The need is so great and we have to find a way to grow it,” Roman said. “It’s my belief that if we bring exposure to this organization, people would support it.”

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