The Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation is proud to announce a new scholarship that will help students with refugee status pay for their college tuition.

The Refugee Annual Scholarship was initiated by a private donor, Elvir Berbic, a native of Bosnia who arrived in Roanoke with his family in 1995 at age 14. Today, Berbic is Clerkship Enrollment Manager at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. He and his co-workers provided the initial gift to fund the scholarship, which will be awarded annually beginning in Spring 2017.

Berbic said he was motivated to start the scholarship fund as a way of encouraging other refugees “to  achieve their goals in attending college and be an example to their families and communities.”

Berbic, his parents and younger brother lived in a refugee camp in Croatia for three years before arriving in Roanoke. He attended William Fleming High School “but barely graduated,” he said, because he wasn’t focused on higher education. He eventually enrolled in Virginia Western and received his associate’s degree in 2006. He transferred to Radford University, where he achieved his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communications.

Berbic credits the encouragement and support he received from the Roanoke community in helping him achieve his career goals.  “Roanoke is my home, and its people are like my family, so I wanted to take care of my family,” he said. “My hope is that this gesture will have a sort of ripple effect. I want to help create a more welcoming and inclusive community that provides for us all.”

Applicants for the Refugee Annual Scholarship must be enrolled in at least six credits, have a 2.0 cumulative GPA (or 2.5 if a second-year student) and provide proof of entering the United States under a refugee status. Priority will be given to those demonstrating financial need. The scholarship will provide $1,000 annually to assist in tuition, which costs $169.74 per credit hour at Virginia Western.

Last year, 210 refugees settled in Roanoke with the assistance of Commonwealth Catholic Charities, which works with the U.S. State Department in settling refugees across Virginia, said Paige Peak, CCC’s marketing manager. Many don’t enroll in college until a year or more after arriving, she said, long after federal assistance has run out.  Unless they have established U.S. residency at the time of enrollment, they would not qualify for federal or state financial aid for tuition.

“We are honored to help fulfill Mr. Berbic’s wishes to help other refugees and give back to Roanoke,” said Dr. Angela M. Garcia Falconetti, Executive Director of the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation and Vice President of Institutional Advancement for Virginia Western. “This gift embodies the inspirational idea of ‘Pay it forward’ and will no doubt positively impact many lives.”

Virginia Western’s Refugee Annual Scholarship is being announced in conjunction with the local celebration of World Refugee Day on June 20. Berbic and another Virginia Western alumnus, Yadav Sapkota (’15), are helping organize the Roanoke event. Sapkota, who entered the U.S. as a refugee from Bhutan in 2011, attends the University of Virginia as a transfer student. The public event is from 6 to 9 p.m. at 16 West Marketplace, 16 Church Ave. S.W., in downtown Roanoke.

To learn more about Virginia Western’s Refugee Annual Scholarship, contact Donor Relations Coordinator Amanda Mansfield at amansfield@virginiawestern.edu or call (540) 857-6962.