Trina Durham is no stranger to adversity. Growing up, her family struggled to make ends meet. Her mom lived with mental illness and, her dad, the primary wage earner, was diagnosed with cancer when Trina was a freshman in high school. Even as responsibilities mounted, Trina worked hard in school. Education was her ladder out of poverty.

Trina Durham is a Coca-Cola First Generation Scholar attending the University of Missouri, majoring in business administration.

Trina Durham is a Coca-Cola First Generation Scholar attending the University of Missouri.

The Coca-Cola Foundation

Today, the University of Missouri senior, majoring in business administration, has one less thing to worry about while pursuing a career in financial services. A scholarship through the Jackie Robinson Foundation, funded by The Coca-Cola Foundation, pays her tuition. As the first in her family to attend college, Trina qualified for The Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship by demonstrating high academic achievement and financial need.

Introduced by The Coca-Cola Foundation in 1993, The Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship (CCFGS) program has supported students who are the first in their immediate family to attend college. To date, the program has paid more than $37.5 million in scholarships to more than 3,200 students at more than 520 campuses around the country. Currently, 35 colleges, universities and scholarship funds are distributing scholarships through the program, supporting students at more than 110 campuses.

“The scholarship means I don’t have to worry about my education because it provides a great support system,” says Trina. “Through the program, I also have mentors who offer advice. It’s like having a double support system.”

Education has been a cornerstone of The Coca-Cola Foundation’s philanthropy since it was established in 1984 by then Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Roberto Goizueta.

“We know that education creates opportunities and changes lives,” says Helen Smith Price, executive director of The Coca-Cola Foundation. “It’s one of the ways in which we make a unique difference in the community.”

With a commitment to donate 1 percent of the company’s prior year’s operating income each year, $117 million was donated in 2015, including $20 million to directly support education programs and initiatives. Among these initiatives is the Foundation’s First Generation Scholarship Program, which helps students like Trina through its support of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, as well as other foundations and scholarship programs throughout the country aimed at helping first-generation students succeed in school.

The beneficiaries of these efforts include students like Angel Hogg, the recipient of a Foundation-supported First Generation Scholarship at the University of Georgia (UGA).

Angel is from the small, coastal community of Guyton, Georgia. Even though her parents did not graduate from high school, they encouraged their children to do well in school. Now, Angel is an animal health major in the pre-veterinarian program at the University of Georgia. She also works as a veterinary technician at the Oconee Veterinary Hospital, with hopes of someday having her own clinic.

“I’ve always loved learning, and going to school,” Angel recounts. “I’ve wanted to be a vet since I was five years old.”

Graduating from high school with a 4.0 grade point average, she caught the attention of UGA recruiters who recommended she apply for the First Generation scholarship as a way to help pay tuition. Started in 2006, the UGA program is specifically designed to meet the unique needs of First Generation scholars, and uses a network of programs and personnel to encourage student success.

Coca-Cola First Generation Scholar Jose Gonzalez is majoring in information technology at Central Washington University.

Coca-Cola First Generation Scholar Jose Gonzalez is majoring in information technology at Central Washington University.

The Coca-Cola Foundation

The Coca-Cola Foundation First Generation Scholarship Program has helped more than 3,200 first-generation students attend college.

According to UGA President Jere W. Morehead, “This program bolsters the University of Georgia’s efforts to cultivate a diverse and supportive learning environment composed of academically talented students from a variety of backgrounds.”

Meaghan Nappo, program coordinator for the UGA program, finds first generation students to be smart, motivated and engaged, lacking only the means to pay for college.

“If they didn’t receive funding, many of them could not have attended to UGA,” offers Nappo. In return, many contribute to the local community. “They want to give back as a result of the opportunity afforded them by Coca-Cola.”

Read the full story on the Washington Monthly website.

Lori Billingsley is vice president of community relations, Coca-Cola North America, and Jacquee Minor is a writer based in Atlanta.