Scholarship Recipients – 2020-21
ANSWER has awarded scholarships to 19 mothers for the 2020-21 school year. ANSWER provides scholarships to mothers 25 years of age and older in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties pursuing a four-year college degree in any field or select two-year degrees.
Meet our scholars:
As ANSWER’s 2019-2020 Levine Scholar, Donise Anderson received additional scholarship funds from ANSWER for academic excellence. She attends Johnson C. Smith University, studying for a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Anderson believes a college education “can open many doors.” Her parents divorced when she was a child and as a result, her mom worked very long hours to provide for the family. Higher education could have changed the course of her mother’s health and life, if only the opportunity had been available.
Today, Anderson strives to set the best example for her 17-year-old son and envisions he will go to college as well. She is married and works full-time with Synchrony Financial while attending college. Her goal is to work in human resources management following graduation.
Nyakio Berry had a son before she finished high school, but later earned her diploma as well as an associate degree in culinary arts. As it turned out, that field was not an ideal fit. While she receives great satisfaction from her present job as a teacher at a day care center, Berry’s ultimate desire is to serve others in a different way--to “secure a position in the courthouse working to keep juveniles out of the system.”
Berry is pursuing a double major in criminal justice and human services at Gardner-Webb University, with expected graduation in 2020. Her family includes her husband, two grown children, and a seven-year old son. She lives in Charlotte.
Lauren Doeblin is finally fulfilling her life-long dream of becoming a nurse. Doeblin is a single mother who has been self-sufficient since she was 18 years old in order to escape an alcoholic stepfather. She wants to be able to provide financial stability and inspire her son to follow his dreams.
Doeblin is a first-year student in York Technical College’s registered nurse program with an anticipated graduation of 2022. She works full-time as a clinical supervisor at an oral surgery practice and her long-term goal is to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). Though her journey has been challenging, she believes that she can tackle any obstacle that comes her way.
Rhacinda Douglas is the practical nursing program at Gaston College as her next step towards becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). She eventually hopes to obtain her Master of Nursing in Nurse Anesthesia
When Douglas became a single mom two years ago, she wanted to give her two boys a better life. She is focused on doing well in school and advancing in healthcare. Douglas is a registered medical assistant for a cancer clinic and is studying to be a nurse to have more influence in patient care.
She has worked hard to keep a 3.8 GPA, raise her active boys, now 12 and 4, and work two jobs. It has not been easy, but her goals are set and she is ready to accomplish all of them.
Erica Flowers will graduate in December 2020 from Queens University with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Despite knowing she wanted to be a nurse when she was younger, Flowers found her life take an unexpected turn when she became a mother at 19. She enrolled in college later on, but while she was in school, her children's father unexpectedly passed away. At that point, she says "survival mode" was the only way forward. College would have to wait.
Flowers decided a few years ago it was time to pursue the path in life that she had always wanted. She hopes to work in a hospital intensive care unit following graduation and eventually earn a doctorate. She also wants to teach her children that "having a college education is an important foundation for your life. Setting and accomplishing goals can take you from where you are now to where you want to be."
Kimberly Fowler, a single mother of four, is studying for a human services technology degree at Central Piedmont Community College.
Fowler works full-time for a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of sickle cell disease (SCD). One of her sons lives with the illness. SCD has affected her family’s life in many ways. At one point, Fowler was unemployed so she could stay home to care for her son. The family was homeless for a time.
“I am stronger than I have ever been and I do believe that my understanding of the lifestyle that comes with SCD needs to be shared,” she says. “I will be that voice, not just for my son, but for the SCD community across the globe.”
Grace Grenga is finally fulfilling her calling. A married mother of two teenagers, she is attending Queens University of Charlotte, earning a bachelor’s degree in English.
Grenga earned an associate degree in nursing in 1998 and while pursuing a bachelor’s degree became pregnant with her first child. With the primary focus on her family, she made the decision to temporarily place her career aspirations on hold.
Now that her children are teenagers, Grenga is following her passion for words and creative writing. Her long-term goals include writing a novel and teaching creative writing to students of all ages, especially those in high-risk demographics.
Grenga hopes to teach her children that “education is more than a means to a well-paying job. It’s an opportunity to develop your natural talents and fulfill your true purpose in life.” She and her family live in Mooresville.
Shawanden Grice is seeking a bachelor’s degree in social work from Johnson C. Smith University and plans to graduate in May 2021. After graduation, she wants to pursue a Master in Social Work. Grice also works full-time and is a single mother to five children, ages 12 to 23.
“I’m still standing after working two jobs, going to school, staying up late night to complete my homework assignments, running to my kids' school functions, helping them with their work, and fixing dinner,” she says. “I feel you can’t let anyone stop you crafting your image."
Earlier in life, Grice did not have the financial stability and support to go to college. Now, with the support of her children, Grice can pursue her dream. She wants her children to know that “knowledge is fundamental and essential in life.”
Consuella Harge is seeking a B.A. in Mathematics with an actuarial science concentration at UNC Charlotte. She is a mother of two children, a 10-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl.
Harge has faced many obstacles in her life, including lupus and long-term effects from post inflammatory fibrosis, which left her in a coma for nearly 20 days in 2014. She strives to teach her children the importance of having a positive attitude about the future ahead of them. She wants them to know that knowledge and education will help them to do anything in the world.
Harge plans to become an actuary upon graduation.
Laurel Helms, a mother of three, is earning a B.S. in Business Administration and a minor in information technology from Belmont Abbey College.
Helms briefly lived in a homeless shelter as a child. She says her academic experience has helped her gain confidence that she lacked in earlier years. “With each assignment, each grade, each completed semester, I became more confident in my own abilities. I am finally proud of myself and can see my worth,” she says. “More importantly, I see that I can make a difference in my community and the world around me.”
Helms works full-time as a senior IT technician and website administrator for Lincoln County Government. She also serves on the board of a homeless shelter in Lincoln County.
She says she wants to show her children “no matter what your circumstances are, you must never give up. Goals, dedication and hard work are important ingredients for a happy, meaningful and successful life.”
Kaye Lee-Harrison attends Johnson C. Smith University’s social work program and hopes to earn her master’s degree in the field someday. She’s a single mother of two children and works as an administrative assistant to support her family while earning her degree.
Earlier in her life, Lee-Harrison worked long hours and didn’t have the time or discipline for higher learning, she says. Nor did she know how to navigate the complex world of scholarships and financial aid. “Now I realize my most important career is obtaining an education. The moment I stepped on campus to attend my first class, I saw a new world, an unveiling. Just standing there surrounded by possibilities was winning.”
Lee-Harrison is teaching her children to read adamantly, ask questions, establish good study habits, and cherish and pursue knowledge.
Jacoya McDowell is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business with a concentration in criminology at Johnson C. Smith University. She plans to graduate in May 2021.
McDowell became a young mom after initially completing two years of college. Although she made a valiant attempt to remain enrolled, she was unable to continue her studies. With the encouragement of her husband and family, McDowell later returned to college.
McDowell hopes her children, ages six and three, will look to her as an “inspiration to never give up on their dreams.” Her future plans are to work with inner city youth to provide resources and tools vital to their long-term success. She says she hopes to teach her children “that education is key in life, and to never give up because their mother didn't!”
Porshua Mckoy attends Central Piedmont Community College and plans to graduate with an Associate in Dental Hygiene in July 2021. Since returning to school, McKoy has been able to maintain a 4.0 GPA while successfully raising three kids on her own.
McKoy was once a teenage runaway who longed to escape from her physically abusive mother. Her past has made her determined to end the cycle of abuse and provide a safe, loving, and financially stable environment for her children to live in. Her desire to provide a better life for her children inspires her to continue her education. “I want to be there for them in every aspect to ensure their success and so now I'm here, in school,” she says.
Originally from El Salvador, Blanca Nowlan attends Johnson C. Smith University, earning a bachelor’s degree in social work. She is married with two children, ages 21 and 14.
With English as a second language, she faced difficulties in seeking higher education that appeared insurmountable at times. Upon graduating from high school, Nowlan started working and purchased a home before she became pregnant with her first child. There was simply not enough money for a college education.
Today, Nowlan has renewed her passion for education. With her unique ability to use bilingual language skills, she can empower others to pursue social and economic independence. Nowlan hopes to become a social worker and help women overcome their obstacles in pursuit of excellence.
According to Nowlan, “Education opens doors to opportunities and gives you a place in society.”
Deborah Olmstead is studying for an Associate Degree in Nursing at Carolinas College of Health Science with expected graduation in 2022. College was once financially unattainable for Olmstead as a young single mom. However, ever since her niece was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Olmstead was driven to enter the medical field and help those who need it most.
She hopes to set a good example for her preteen son, “showing him that he too can reach his goals through hard work and determination.” By returning to school she has been able to bond with her son and help cultivate his love of science.
Lauren Surrat, a single mom who works full-time, is earning an Associate Degree in Nursing from Carolinas College of Health Science. She plans to graduate in 2022. Surrat was not able to attend college at the traditional age due to a lack of funding, but has embarked on a college education now to expand her career options.
Surrat finds inspiration in being a single mother of a four-year-old daughter. “Being a single mom is the hardest thing I have had to do while also trying to do what is best for my future. My daughter had been with me through every obstacle I have encountered, and I wouldn't have made it this far without looking into her brown eyes every day.” That’s all the motivation Surrat needs.
As a child of refugee parents, Maighia Vang struggled between the complexities of conservative Hmong values and the openness of Western culture. After high school she enrolled in college but did not have the motivation to maintain the necessary grades, which led to academic probation and ultimately her dismissal from school. Around the same time, she learned she was pregnant and was kicked out of her home. Devastating events seemed to come one after the next and Vang lost her desire to live.
Thankfully, with the help of mental health counseling, Vang says she realized she deserved a “chance to pursue happiness without being judged as selfish.” Today, she is raising two children, ages eight and one, with her partner. According to Vang, “We choose what we’d like to do about our experiences, whether good or bad, and how we allow it to affect and define us as an individual.”
Vang has chosen a career path to empower and help others affected by trauma and adversity. A student at Queens University of Charlotte, she plans to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in human services.
Jenny Van-Strahlen is completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology and human services at Montreat College..
Van-Strahlen has seen more than her share of heartaches, starting with her mother’s death when Van-Strahlen was only five. As a result, she lived in a foster home and with extended family members throughout her early childhood. During the first year of college, Van-Strahlen was sexually assaulted and was unable to return to school. Life took another unexpected turn in her mid-20s when Van-Strahlen’s first marriage ended and she found herself homeless.
She sought a fresh start in Charlotte fifteen years ago. Today, Van-Strahlen is the single mom of three adopted children, ages 20, 13 and five, as well as a therapeutic foster parent for children with significant mental health needs. She has a passion for working with children who have experienced neglect and trauma and is an advocate for broadening access for adopted children to mental health services. Upon graduating, Van-Strahlen will pursue a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. Van-Strahlen serves as board chair for HopeMatch, a local non-profit which serves the working poor in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties.
Fitih Woldegiorgis is seeking a bachelor's degree in business at Winthrop University.
As a mother of two children, ages 11 and six years old, Woldegiorgis recognizes the opportunities that a college education brings - now and into the future. As a young adult, she started college a few times but felt she lacked the necessary discipline to remain enrolled. Today, she is determined to forge forward despite the challenges of balancing school and family.
Woldegiorgis teaches her children that "education is important if you want to be successful in life." She sets an example of what can be accomplished with hard work and dedication and plans to use her degree in the health care field.