Every year the Cleburne County Republican Women (CCRW) award the Youth Challenge Award to four young women graduating from Cleburne County high schools. A member of CCRW volunteers to sponsor one of the young ladies who receive the award. This year’s sponsors are: Freddie Lou Quist, West Side High School; Mary Hall, Quitman High School; Paula Sporn, Heber Springs High School; and, Mary Lu Helm, Concord High School.
Each high school’s faculty is asked to nominate a young woman who has overcome tremendous odds to complete high school graduation requirements. Most scholarships are awarded to those with the highest GPA, but the CCRW Youth Challenge Award is granted to one young lady from each county high school who may not have the highest GPA or the highest class ranking. Each winner is awarded a $100 check, a certificate acknowledging her achievement, a Pandora bracelet with the “Wise Owl” charm, and a nomination for the Nichols Scholarship of $1,000 that goes to the college of the nominee’s choice.
Last Thursday afternoon, the nominees met with the ladies of CCRW to vie for the Nichols Scholarship. They related how they approached each year of their high school attendance and how they overcame life challenges to earn their diploma. Each of the nominees have selected colleges to pursue their education and career goals.
“I love God, family and friends,” began Emily Crow, the Heber Springs High School nominee. Emily moved to Heber Springs at the beginning of her sophomore year because her mother and step-father had gotten jobs in Heber Springs – jobs that fell through.
Emily and her family lived in a pop-up camper until Christmas of that year. Emily’s grandmother passed away just before Christmas and the family could then move into her grandmother’s home. Grieving the death of her grandmother was very challenging for Emily, but she stayed faithful to God, got very involved in her church, and began to daily read her bible.
Her family life was very difficult, but in her junior year, Emily got a job and began to immerse herself in her school studies. Emily has been accepted into John Brown University where she will be majoring in photography and business. She is working at the Red Apple Inn and saving her money to provide reliable transportation. She has received scholarships and will be in a work-study program at the university. Emily is the first in her family to attend college.
“I’ve been homeless since I was 12 years old,” Sydney Comeaux related. “When we lived in a single-wide trailer, I worked two jobs to be able to pay the rent and utilities, so my brother and I could have a roof over our heads.”
Sydney has had to deal with a long family history of drug and alcohol abuse. She battles anxiety and depression due to PTSD. In her sophomore year, she moved in with friends because things at home were unbearable. She expressed her gratitude to the family that took her in and helped stabilize her life. Then in her junior year, she moved in with her mentally ill grandmother to care for her. Her grandmother was eventually institutionalized.
When her mother was diagnosed with Stage 3 throat cancer, she moved to Greers Ferry to take care of her mother. She began to attend an ACT camp after school and helped other pass their ACT tests.
“The only way to change the world is to change yourself and help others,” explained Sydney. She plans to attend The University of Arkansas Community College – Batesville and major in nursing. She hopes to achieve her Master’s degree. She is saving money for reliable transportation since her government housing in Batesville is twenty minutes from the campus.
Like the other nominees, Hope Bucher from Quitman High School, found her home life to be very challenging. During her first two years in high school, Hope was a loner and very depressed. In her junior year her mother lost custody of Hope and she moved in with her aunt. Getting involved in sports helped pull her out of her depression.
“I’m passionate about singing and am a people person,” exclaimed Hope. “In my senior year, I made a ton of friends.”
Hope plans to attend North Arkansas College in Harrison, Arkansas. She’ll be majoring in Business Administration with a focus in the hospitality industry. She is a youth leader in a group home in Newport and works at Hardy’s in Searcy.
Jordin Dossett was the nominee from Concord High School. Unfortunately, she was unable to attend the meeting on Thursday and therefore was disqualified as a contender for the Nichols Scholarship. In the nomination letter from the senior counselor at Concord High, Steve Tarver explained why Jordin had been nominated.
He wrote, “We chose Jordin because she hasn’t had the easiest path to follow growing up. She has struggles in some classes, but she continued to pick herself up and ask questions until she understood the material. Last year, Jordin’s father committed suicide at home while Jordin, and others of her family, were at the residence. Jordin’s grief turned into motivation and determination. From her own mouth, she has said she wants to graduate and make a good life for herself by going to college. She will be the first in her family to attend college.”
After the nominee’s presentations, a vote was conducted and Sydney Comeaux was awarded the Nichols Scholarship. Her school will receive a $1,000 to be applied to her education. Emily Crow and Hope Bucher were awarded $500 each and their scholarship will be sent to their respective schools.
“In my book, they’re all winners,” summed up Paula Sporn.