Guest Commentary

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ANSWER Scholarship is helping local mothers attend college

The nonprofit also assists with mentoring and career guidance.

ANSWER Scholarship recipients for the 2017-18 school year celebrate at the group’s annual luncheon with ANSWER Founder Susan Andersen (front row, third from left) and Program Director Sonya Muhammad (front row, third from right).

Sonya Muhammad

Some people would have called her situation hopeless.

Sheri Perez-Segura was a middle school dropout and a single mother with four children. Lacking even a high school diploma, she couldn’t get a job that would support her family in Rock Hill.

But she has a fighting spirit. She earned her GED at age 35. Last year, she graduated from Winthrop University with a B.S. in family and consumer sciences, focusing on early childhood and adolescent studies. Now she is a parent educator with York School District in York, S.C.  She has a career with a future.

One source of Perez-Segura’s success is ANSWER Scholarship, a nonprofit that awards college scholarships to moms in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties.  They can earn a four-year degree in the field of their choice, a two-year nursing degree, or a two-year degree in CPCC’s Health Careers division. But they must have children at home, from kindergarten to 12th grade, so the kids can see their moms working hard and be inspired to go to college, too.

ANSWER helps improve economic mobility in our community. The numbers tell part of the story. We’ve awarded 99 scholarships to 54 moms since 2006. Our graduation rate is an impressive 87 percent, compared to less than 40 percent for non-traditional students nationally.

But there’s more to the story.  And when you hear it, you might just consider volunteering with ANSWER, donating to build our scholarship fund, or applying for an ANSWER Scholarship. The deadline is March 9 for the 2018-19 school year. Or mull it over, then decide to apply to ANSWER during our next application round in winter 2018.

Mentors for Mom

It’s tough to be in college when you’re working and raising a family. Sometimes when women go back to school in later years, they don’t get much support.  Family and friends might think they are crazy for attempting the impossible.

Every ANSWER scholar gets a mentor to help her balance work, family, and school, and counter all the negative chatter the world might give her. A mentor helps the mom see herself for what she is —a hero.

Moms and mentors meet together as a group every month.  Moms learn interviewing skills, resume writing, time management and other skills to land good jobs. We also have programs to uplift them.  We love and support one another, sharing laughs and tears. It’s a time for our scholars to set aside all the other responsibilities they have in their lives and focus briefly on themselves.

In its small but mighty way, ANSWER is addressing that famous Harvard/UC Berkeley study in which Charlotte ranked 50th out of 50 major U.S. cities for economic mobility. Just imagine how hard upward mobility is here for women who lack an education. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force agreed in its report last year that a four-year degree or other post-secondary credential is essential to build successful careers and support thriving families.

We’ve seen it happen. Educate a woman and she’s viable to compete in the job market. Equipped with her college education, she can earn a wage that allows her and her children to live in a safe neighborhood at least somewhat near her job or employment centers. ANSWER graduates are getting those good jobs. Some have even gone on to earn master’s degrees.

Transform Our City, Transform Yourself

We are here if you’re a mom who has wanted to start or resume college but thought there was no one to help you. ANSWER awards scholarships through a competitive application process, but the first step is to apply. Our recipients can be single or married.

We also need volunteers to be mentors, professional development experts, and other roles.  Our volunteers support an amazing transformation of women and their families.  It makes you feel you are bigger than your own personal experiences.

ANSWER’s funding comes from individuals, companies, foundations and houses of worship. Donors choose us because they want their money to be put towards something relevant and effective. They are always invited to meet our scholars and come to our events. We tell our donors, “You can see the effect of your gift when she walks across a stage wearing a cap and gown, with her kids cheering in the audience.”

You’re fortunate if you were able to go to college immediately following high school, graduate, get a great job and have a partner or family. That’s the ideal, but not everyone had those opportunities as a young adult. ANSWER takes care of women on their way to a better life, and gives Charlotte a way to be better than 50th.

Sonya Muhammad, MSW, is program director of ANSWER Scholarship.  Learn more at www.answerscholarship.org .

Editor’s Note: What’s on your mind? Email editor@qcitymetro.com. We welcome diverse viewpoints.

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