Jabria Smith said she was cleaning her father’s Forest Park restaurant around 9 p.m. on Jan. 26 when her phone beeped with a notification: Thanks to an outpouring of support from the community, the Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate would be able to stay in school. 

“I felt relieved. In the beginning of winter break I was struggling to not worry about it. As time started to wind down, I thought I wouldn’t be able to go to class this semester,” Smith said. “I’m trying to set a good example for my little sister and niece so I’m relieved I can finish and I can finish on time.” 

After two jobs Smith secured for winter break fell through, the college junior fell $2,800 in debt to St. Xavier University and was overwhelmed by the high cost of living on campus at the new school and an overloaded course schedule. The Chicago university wouldn’t let her register for classes until her account balance was less than $450. Smith started a GoFundMe and Facebook fundraiser as a last resort on Jan. 12, and said 26 people — “a lot” of whom were from Oak Park or were fans of her father’s Pit Zone BBQ restaurant in Forest Park — donated $2,880 for her to stay in school. 

“To give from their hearts is wonderful so I’m extremely appreciative of that,” Smith said. 

She received approval from all her professors to register for two classes in political science, one in English, Religion and the Media, and sociology on Jan. 27. She is most excited to take the sociology course, which will focus on racial and ethnic relations — a topic Smith intently studied during her junior year at OPRF, eventually presenting her final essay on the subject to students at the University of Illinois Champaign Urbana. She dreams of following in her favorite OPRF teacher’s footsteps and teaching sociology to high school juniors. 

Now that she has paid off this final amount, Smith said she should be good for the rest of her college career. This summer, she will live at home in Oak Park and take classes at Triton University, which she said will be much cheaper than attending classes at St. Xavier. Next school year, she will work as a resident advisor, which will offset all her living costs. 

She plans to attend her first class of the semester at St. Xavier on Jan. 29.

“I really do want to thank everyone,” she said. 

Nona Tepper