Georgia Tech alumna Heather Johnston, who graduated in 2017, attended Tech as a recipient of the G. Wayne Clough Georgia Tech Promise Program, a scholarship that makes it possible for qualifying low-income, in-state students to earn a degree at Tech debt-free. Now, she’s building a nonprofit based in North Georgia to continue a cycle of kindness.
“People have helped me every step of the way, and now I want to help people,” said Johnston, reflecting on her path from Tech to building her nonprofit, Blueprint Bridge, Inc., an organization dedicated to assisting individuals reintegrate into society after incarceration. “And the cycle just keeps going. That’s how the world gets better.”
Journey to Tech
For this native of Blue Ridge, Georgia, college wasn’t always on the horizon. Despite performing well in high school and enjoying academics, Johnston didn’t feel that she had the resources, or need, to go to college.
“I just didn’t know much about college at the time,” she said. “I didn’t know many people who went, and I didn’t know what you could really do with a college degree.”
But she still ended up applying to Tech on her high school’s Apply to College Day, and weeks later, she had an acceptance letter and the offer of a Tech Promise scholarship. Dealing with an abusive relationship at the time, the opportunity to get out of her hometown to attend college without accumulating debt was a game changer.
When she arrived at Tech, she found herself in the office of Jerry McTier, a financial aid advisor, for a mandatory meeting about her scholarship and managing her finances for the years ahead. As an 18-year-old who grew up in rural Georgia with limited means, financial management — and navigating the college landscape as a first-generation student — proved daunting. But with McTier’s help, Johnston was able to more comfortably navigate her years at Tech.
“The information gap is pretty big,” said Johnston. “If you haven’t had someone close to you go to college before, you don’t even know what you don’t know until someone tells you.”
Continuing the Cycle of Giving Back
After graduating with her degree in public policy, Johnston worked for Georgia’s State Road and Tollway Authority but found herself wanting to do more to give back. After reflecting on her skills and passions, Johnston decided to apply to law school at Georgia State University.
Law school gave Johnston the know-how and inspiration that led her to turn her focus to the creation of Blueprint Bridge. As Johnston builds the nonprofit, she hopes the organization will be a resource hub for individuals who have been affected by the criminal justice system as they reintegrate into society.
“There’s a lot of little things we can do to be helpful,” said Johnston. “Tips on how to eat, how to call your probation officer, or where to get dental care. For a lot of people, these are the kinds of things that can be difficult to navigate.”
Johnston’s goal is for the organization to be something anyone can contribute resources to, and she hopes it will expand over time. Ultimately, she’s happy to have the opportunity to return some of the kindness she received to her home region.
“Growing up in a small town and then coming to college on scholarship really ingrained the community mindset,” said Johnston. “So, I always imagined I would put effort back into my community. I am thankful for what I’ve been given, and it makes such a big difference.”