My GRCC Story: At 70, Penelope Jones taps Futures for Frontliners to plan for her ‘next’

Penelope Jones smiling

When Penelope Jones saw the chance for a tuition-free degree at Grand Rapids Community College, she knew she had to take it.

Never mind she’s 70 years old.

“My whole life, I always wanted to go to college. So, when I heard about Futures for Frontliners, I knew if I didn’t walk through that door, it might never be open again,” said Jones, a Kentwood grandmother of five.

Futures for Frontliners is a state scholarship program for Michiganders who worked frontline jobs in essential industries during the state’s COVID-19 shutdown. The scholarship provides eligible frontline workers with free in-district tuition to pursue an associate degree or a certificate at their local community college.

Futures for Frontliners and Michigan Reconnect have proven wildly popular for West Michigan adult learners. At GRCC, 24% of students this fall — 3,017 out of 12,685 — are enrolled in the scholarship programs.

Jones qualified for the free tuition because she worked at a local FedEx office facility throughout the pandemic.

But she’s certainly no stranger to hard work. Her hefty resume includes a lifetime of work with Grand Rapids-area nonprofits, businesses, a municipality and a hospital, among others. Her longtime husband, Eric D. Jones Sr., was pastor of the former Agape Christian Ministries International, where she also worked. Together, they raised three sons.

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