Politics

Cate Edwards on late mom: 'Everyone deserves an Elizabeth'

March 29, 2013 at 7:38 AM ET

TODAY /

This week, I sat down with Savannah Guthrie to help raise awareness of the Elizabeth Edwards Foundation, an educational nonprofit founded in honor of my mom.

I told her about our philosophy that “everyone deserves an Elizabeth,” to usher them through challenges and encourage them to pursue their loftiest dreams. I was lucky enough to have the real thing.

When I was young, my mom stayed up late with me if I had to read a book for class the next day. We would take turns reading aloud to each other so that we could each stay awake and follow the story line. In high school, my mom drove me around to see 17 different colleges in less than a week, keeping a running list of pros and cons and making me rank each college based on my personal preferences.

TODAY /

In college, I called her to ask which extracurricular activities she thought I should do, and in law school she pushed me to apply for higher positions on my law journal. Even in 2010, I went to her to seek her coveted advice on my career as a civil rights attorney. She was a constant mentor, cheerleader and coach, and I will never stop thanking her for that.

The value of a support system cannot be understated. It can make the difference for a young person, determining just how bright their light can burn. We built the Elizabeth Fellows Program for that exact purpose: to fan those flames. This year, we welcome our first class of Elizabeth Fellows in Raleigh, North Carolina. This group of kids is driven, smart, and talented, but unfortunately has limited resources and has been met with obstacles to their success. That has not stopped any of them from dreaming of going to college and envisioning a bright future for themselves. Our role is to “give them an Elizabeth” to help them get there.

How do we do it? First, we provide each fellow with a mentor from a local college to walk with them through high school, help them over social and academic hurdles, and introduce them to college life. They also receive academic monitoring and support to ensure that they are successful in the classroom, helping them build a solid foundation for years of education to come.

The fellows also learn a skill that my mom embodied in her own life: advocacy. Finding their own voice, the fellows learn to advocate for the things that matter most to them. Each spring, the fellows also design and implement a public service project to address a concern within their community, instilling in them the power of service that my mom so valued. The fellows will also receive the support they need for SAT prep, summer experiences, college applications and more.

The fellows have expressed the deepest gratitude for the opportunity that the program has given them since they were told of their admission. Some of them screamed and jumped around with excitement; some had tears in their eyes; others ran to their favorite teachers or called their mothers to tell them. Many have already said that they want to come back to the program as mentors when they are in college.

Earlier this month, I gave them each a copy of my mom’s first book, "Saving Graces." They immediately started flipping through it, and said they would be staying up late that night reading it. From that moment, I knew that my mother would be proud; these are exactly the type of kids that she always reached out to help. And like my mother was, I am nothing short of inspired by them. I hope you’ll go to our website (www.elizabethedwards.org) and learn more about the program and how your assistance can help us bring on more classes of Elizabeth Fellows, grow the program and give more young people “an Elizabeth” of their own.

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