Alyssa Burke was put into the foster care system at the age of 8.
By her early teens, she was pregnant. Soon, she found herself fearing for her life in a severe domestic violence relationship. Burke and her son managed to escape with their lives.
But Burke’s son soon manifested behavioral and emotional problems. Eventually he was diagnosed with intrauterine PTSD caused by the severe beatings given Burke while she was pregnant. After counseling and behavioral therapy, her son is much improved, and Burke no longer keeps her story a secret. She shares it because she intends to help other women.
Burke speaks to teenage girls at alternative high schools and in prison, stressing the importance of education. She attends Sierra College, where she is receiving high marks. From there, she intends to obtain a master’s degree in behavioral science in order to become a juvenile probation officer.
In line with that intention, Burke has already interviewed with Grass Valley probation officers and been promised an internship with the Nevada County Probation Department.
When asked what her “someday dream goal” was, Burke said: “To build a safe place for kids with emotional and behavioral issues — a center where kids can develop life skills, staffed with psychologists, and a place for parents too!”
Fewer than 2 percent of adults from the foster care system ever excel at higher education. Burke is one of them and the first person in her family to go to college.
This is not just a story about one woman. It is the story of many who have been recipients of the Business & Professional Women of Nevada County’s (BPWNC) Dolores “Dee” Eldridge Scholarship over the past 16 years. Their stories are varied, but the aim of the scholarship is the same: to give a hand up to re-entry women, to help make the difference between success and failure; to say, emphatically, “We believe in you!”
This year’s three scholarship awards, given respectively in the amount of $2,000, $2,000 and $1,500, are intended to help pay for tuition, books, child care and any other services or supplies that support a current enrollment in a college or professional school. Winning candidates have realistic goals and display ability and aptitude, ambition, motivation and financial need. Candidates must be 25 or older, and finalists are interviewed.
Kimberly D’Urso epitomizes high achievement. Currently, she works as a court recorder, takes care of three teenagers in a blended family and commutes to Butte College in Chico. D’Urso, too, escaped from an abusive marriage. Wanting to advocate for other domestic violence survivors, she became certified as a crisis intervention counselor. Her devotion to women’s issues is reflected in the work she does in her “spare” time. She is president of Nevada County Citizens for Choice, was a founder of Women Against the War on Women, a co-organizer of One Billion Rising and a delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. And she maintains a 4.0 GPA. D’Urso will attend Chico State in 2014, pursuing a communications/international relations degree with an eye toward becoming an executive director of women’s organizations in the United States and internationally.
One Nevada County business owner said of D’Urso: “She is a committed local activist focused on the health and well-being of local and international women and teens. Kimberly makes things happen.”
Ask yourself what you would do if you were aged out of the foster child system at 18 with no money for school? What if you had managed to escape a violent relationship but had no job or training? And what if you also had a young child? It is proven, over and over again, what a difference education can make. In countries where women are kept from learning or murdered for trying to obtain an education, countries where terrorism, violence, ignorance, disease and unremitting poverty are manifest.
Conversely, studies show that in cultures where women are educated, there exists a greatly elevated standard of living, less violence and healthier children. This is the reason for BPWNC’s scholarship program. With $26,350 in awards given since 1997, the project continues to grow with larger and larger amounts and more recipients. Funds come from the BPWNC membership, as well as from the generosity of the community. This year’s scholarship awardees have overcome sometimes tremendous odds to go to school. They have figured out how to negotiate roadblocks along the way. They have conquered personal and educational challenges and own a resolute vision of their futures. In 2013 alone, BPWNC has awarded $5,500 to worthy candidates whose promise shines far beyond what their past has been.
Scholarship applications are accepted on a rolling basis, with awards given in February and August. In August, the organization gathers current and past recipients for a celebratory meeting to acknowledge the distance awardees have traveled, to present current winners with their checks and to encourage all to continue with their educational and life dreams. There is seldom a dry eye in the house.
For further information or to request an application, email Lynn Wenzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.