Against all odds, 52 women who have faced significant challenges are heading back to school to earn a college degree and the chance to turn their lives around. Hundreds turned out on October 4th to celebrate this achievement for each of the Delaware scholars. These women are the latest cohort who have been awarded college scholarships thanks to the Fresh Start Scholarship Foundation.
One by one each scholar had her turn in the spotlight at the Rising Stars event at the DuPont Country Club. The event featured a Hollywood red carpet theme, a dazzling stage display, and stirring remarks from supporters and a few of the scholars themselves.
A second chance at higher education
Noting that there are very few scholarships focused on adult women, Foundation President Sarah Kenney remarked, “We are here to celebrate you.” Kenney also announced that the organization had surpassed the $1 million mark in scholarships awarded since it was founded in 1996.
Scholarship winner Ruthann Stephenson shared her challenging path, which included being a young mother, working multiple jobs to pay the bills and being witness to extreme mental illness and violence. Pacing the stage and clutching the microphone, she recounted a terrible incident when her mentally disturbed brother shot the father of her child. Stephenson is on track to receive her associate’s degree in nursing from Delaware Technical and Community College this coming spring. She said the scholarship and mentoring opportunities have given her great joy and hope for the future.
Jennifer Cohan, secretary of the Department of Transportation (DelDOT), herself shared a candid story about her difficult upbringing in a rural area of Kent County and her drive to make something of her own life.
“I am you, and you are me,” she began with. “In our house, the electricity was turned off every month. Clothes were put on layaway. My father was an alcoholic. Married at 18, I was divorced at 20. And I was an undereducated single mom.”
Cohan managed to put herself through school and now runs one of the most important agencies in the state. She offered words of encouragement to the newest scholars, many of whom are also juggling family and careers. “It’s really, really hard, but I implore you to never give up. Be first and be courageous. Let your haters be your motivators. And help each other.”
First Lady Tracey Quillen also a returning scholar
First Lady Tracey Quillen called the college-bound scholars ‘heroes,’ telling them that she, too, is also a returning scholar. “A college degree is the best thing you can do for yourselves. It’s the best thing you can do for your families. And it’s the best thing you can do for our shared future.”
Several of the businesses sponsored an individual scholar, including Patterson-Schwartz Real Estate (PSRE). PSRE representative Carolyn Roland said she was proud to meet the scholars first hand and hear their personal stories.
“One of the scholars from Georgetown, Delaware, bubbled over with enthusiasm,” said Roland. “She has held many jobs, including housekeeping and food service. But now she’s embarking on a degree in Hospitality Management at DelTech. This wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of the Fresh Start Scholarship Foundation.”