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She was heartbroken to hear students couldn't afford to graduate. Now, she's stepping in to help.

She was heartbroken to hear students couldn't afford to graduate. Now, she's stepping in to help.
Posted at 3:47 PM, May 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-31 17:46:38-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- High school graduation is an important celebration in the life of many young adults.

However, some find themselves in jeopardy of losing this big moment because they find themselves unable to afford a cap and gown.

Last year, Zaniya Cespedus thought she might miss out on all the pomp and circumstance when she found herself in a similar situation.

She said like many other seniors, she just resigned herself to the fact that she would miss graduation and get her diploma in the mail.

"I couldn't afford a cap and gown for myself. I was going through a lot of family issues," Cespedus said.

In the eleventh hour, a local non-profit stepped in to help.

"I tried to encourage them that, you know, we can all work together as a community to help you get it. That's how it all worked out. Last year, we were able to service 100 students. We decorated student porches in certain neighborhoods and we worked together and made it happen," Chenice Johnson, the founder of the JUST C nonprofit, said.

"That meant a lot to me. That really helped me out. It made me happy that I could walk across the stage," Cespedus said.

Johnson said it broke her heart hearing that some students were preparing to skip graduation due to financial limits.

"They didn't care about it, but the whole time, it was really that their parents couldn't afford to pay for the cap and gowns. So I was like, that's crazy because you're going to miss out on something that's going to mean a lot to you when you look back," Johnson said.

This year, Johnson is at it again, working with the vendor after hearing about dozens of Richmond Public Schools seniors who are in need of a cap and gown.

She was heartbroken to hear students couldn't afford to graduate. Now, she's stepping in to help.

"Each cap and gown costs $72 and so far, 68 students across all the high schools that students go to RPS, so we are trying to service as many students as we can. If you have it in your heart to help, or if you have a little extra because I know this is a trying time for a lot of people, spreading a little love to some kids can make a big difference. Some kids that come from communities such as I grew up in, this will be some of the biggest accomplishments they will ever have in their life," Johnson said.

Organizers said they will work around the clock to get as many donations as possible because the vendor will return to the schools this week with the caps and gowns.

If you would like to donate, you can learn more by calling (804) 244-0231.