ANSWER SCHOLARSHIP ALUMNAE
We are so proud of the accomplishments of these scholars who achieved their college goals while also working and mothering – no small feat!
Our workforce is better and stronger because they are a part of it.
Raven Barber is working toward her Associate in Nursing from York Technical College, but that’s just the first step in her ambitions. She plans to continue her education with an ultimate goal of completing an advanced practitioner or doctoral program.
The traditional higher learning route did not fit her after high school even though she felt pressured by family and friends to do so. She is now ready for her college journey because her daughter is older.
Barber says that being a single mom has made her strong. She knows that she can and will rise above the statistics; she knows she is capable. With that attitude she hopes to teach her daughter you can achieve on your timeline, be who you are, and set out to live your best life. The family lives in York, South Carolina.
Johanna Enireb is on track to graduate from Winthrop University in December 2021 with a B.S. in Early Childhood Education. She attended community college for two years in Florida but after getting married, she and her husband relocated to North Carolina. Her plan was to wait "one year" before going back to school so that she could qualify for in-state tuition. Then life happened – including three children – and school became less of a priority.
While substitute teaching, Enireb found a love and sees teaching as her calling. Now that two of her children are teenagers and one is a pre-teen, it’s easier for Enireb to focus on completing her degree. She wants to show her children that you can achieve your dreams with hard work and dedication. Enireb and her family live in Indian Land, S.C., and she hopes to teach in a local public school in South Carolina.
Takisha Griffin is her B.S. in Social Work from Johnson C. Smith University while also holding a full-time job. She ultimately wants to counsel teens and teen mothers, so upon graduation she hopes to pursue her master’s degree and become a licensed clinical social worker.
Griffin started college as a traditional student after high school but as a young mother, she struggled with balancing being a new mom and her studies. She left college to focus on her child and also to help support her grandmother.
Griffin feels she has been blessed with a second chance now to fulfill her life’s purpose. She is using that chance to show her two children what it means to value education and the impact it can have on their future. Griffin lives in Wingate with her son and daughter.
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.
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."
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.”
Laurel Helms, a single mother of three, is a senior at Belmont Abbey College, earning a B.S. in Business Administration and a minor in information technology.
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.”
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.