INDIAN TRAIL – When Indian Trail resident Leah Helms left an abusive relationship, she became a single mom of three children with no job and no four-year degree.
But thanks to the ANSWER Scholarship Endowment, Helms and other women across the Charlotte region are having a second chance at a college education.
ANSWER founder Susan Andersen was inspired to launch a scholarship for moms following her own divorce in 2005.
“At that moment I realized that without education, and raising children, how difficult it is (for women) to move forward with education,” Andersen said.
Having been “blessed with a scholarship” an organization previously gave her, Andersen decided she wanted to give back so others could experience the same opportunities she had.
“It became my passion to help moms who didn’t have the opportunity the first go ‘round to obtain an education. It helps shape the destiny of their children,” Andersen said.
The scholarship is housed at the Foundation For The Carolinas and typically provides $1,500 to $4,000 per year for women attending a four-year university or working on an associate’s degree in nursing. Recipients must be raising school-aged children and working on their first college degree. They also must show a financial need for the scholarship and can be single or married.
ANSWER awards scholarships to an average of seven to 10 women each year, depending on the amount of money available in the fund and the number of eligible candidates. Recipients can apply to have their scholarship renewed each year for three additional years if they meet certain criteria.
For some women, the scholarship propels them through multiple years of college. But for others, like Helms, it helps them with the last stretch of the marathon.
Helms was in the U.S. Air Force from 2002 to 2006, when she decided to stay home and raise her children instead. Following a split with her husband in 2007, Helms relocated to North Carolina to be near her family and decided to go back to school in 2009.
Helms began working on her bachelor of science in accounting through Gardner Webb University’s online learning program, which allowed her to maintain a job and raise her children while taking classes.
The first three years of her education were funded by a veterans’ education bill. But because the bill only runs for 36 months, Helms had no idea how she was going to pay for her final year. She decided to apply for a scholarship with ANSWER and was recently chosen as a recipient for the 2013-14 school year.
“I more than likely would have had to stop classes this semester,” Helms said. “If that was the case, I would not be here in this position. I would be stuck. I couldn’t imagine being stuck.”
Andersen said Helms, who is expected to graduate in May 2014 and would like to go into investigative and forensic accounting, was chosen partially because of her 4.0 grade-point average.
“When Leah was selected as an outstanding candidate, we were very excited,” Andersen said.
ANSWER is funded through donations from faith-based institutions, private donors and other organizations, with a recent donation being a $10,000 matching grant from the Leon Levine Foundation. But continuing to fund the scholarship has been difficult, especially since the economy took a nosedive in 2008, Andersen said.
Andersen added the recession has, in some ways, been a positive motivating factor to spread the word about the program among the community.
“When the crash happened, that was when we got motivated to go out and fundraise,” she said. “Before then, the fund ran itself. There was no need to build it, but when it crashed we made some changes to get out in the community and talk about it. It’s been a really good thing because people in the community became aware of who we are and what we’re about.”
Find more information and donate to the ANSWER Scholarship Endowment at www.answerscholarship.org.