Victoria Bell remembers peanut butter cookies and cornbread as the first recipes she ever made by herself the summer before third grade. Now, heading into her last year of high school, she can see her dream career of one day owning a restaurant or bakery in close reach.
Bell, an incoming senior at Lawrence High, applied to and was selected as the winner of the $10,000 Jae’Sean Tate BUILT Scholarship for all her accomplishments.
The award is sponsored by NBA player Jae’Sean Tate to annually honor students who “juggle school and work.” Tate recently surprised Bell with the news via Zoom, Bell said.
“I had a Zoom call with Jae’Sean Tate, and as soon as it was over I told my mother. I was so excited that I was blessed to win it because I applied to others and didn’t get them and the other ones were for a couple hundred or $1,000, and I thought, ‘If I didn’t win those there was no way I’d win a $10,000 one,’” Bell said.
Throughout her high school years, Bell has been focused on her academics and heavily involved in extracurriculars, all while volunteering with Sunrise Project in Lawrence and working on a chicken farm in Oskaloosa called SweetLove Farms. At Lawrence High, she is a member of Can We Talk, SAFE Club, Young Women of Color, and Equity Council.
Still, she makes time for her passion of cooking and baking for her family to not only perfect her craft but also make those she loves happy.
“I always loved cooking and baking and I love being able to give food to others. Whenever I make something I always bring some to my grandmother. Food is one of those things that everyone loves and there’s so many different types,” Bell said.
Bell said she has been cooking and baking since she was in second grade and was heavily influenced by the women in her family. They taught her the foundation of what she knows, and she is able to expand upon that today.
“I grew up watching my grandmother and mother and aunts cook, so I learned a great deal about how to cook from watching them, but I like to try new things and techniques when cooking,” Bell said.
“There are times when I make something, and I may just improvise and make it my own. So far I haven’t had any complaints.”
Tate, who plays for the Houston Rockets, started his scholarship in November 2021 to support seniors in high school, undergraduate students and graduate students who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) and may have student loan debt.
The scholarship is his way of giving back to students who have “balanced education with the demands of a day job” as service workers in the coffee or food industry, especially through the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the scholarship description.
In a news release announcing Bell as the winner, Tate said Bell’s application was “inspiring,” and he lauded her for doing everything she can to pursue her dreams.
Tate said in the scholarship description, “I always tell people, ‘I’ve been BUILT, I just took the steps,’ and each one of those steps came with support. That’s why I’m so excited to support the minority members of the Coffee and Food Service Industry who are taking the steps to achieve their goals and dreams, no matter how unconventional the route.”
Bell said she is excited to use the scholarship money to help pay for college, taking one more step closer to her dream. She plans on graduating early, in December 2022, to then spend the spring 2023 semester and the following summer working and saving up for school.
She plans to study in the culinary program at Johnson County Community College starting in fall 2023, and then attend the University of Kansas to study business and entrepreneurship.
Tate’s scholarship is hosted by Bold.org, a platform aimed at combating student debt.