Two years ago Cheryl Lewis and her daughter arrived in a shelter for women who had experienced domestic violence. After a lengthy ordeal in court to obtain a restraining order against her ex-husband, Cheryl decided to go back to school and learn how to help other battered women who had little education about the legal system so that they would not feel as lost and confused as she had during the legal proceedings.
Now, after two years of taking classes part-time at Genesee Community College while working full-time, Cheryl has received a Jeanette Rankin scholarship for the 2008-2009 academic year. She will receive $1,000 for the fall semester and another $1,000 for the spring semester, which will allow her to enroll full-time at Genesee and finish her degree in Paralegal Studies more quickly.
Cheryl, a resident of Bliss, NY, found out about the Jeannette Rankin scholarship through her participation as a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the college's honor society. The Jeannette Rankin Foundation (JRF) is an organization designed to support mature, low-income women who are motivated to change their lives through education. Begun with a bequest in 1976 from Jeanette Rankin, the first woman elected to US Congress, JRF awards scholarships to women who have a vision of how an education will benefit themselves, their families, and their communities. The scholarships are not restricted to tuition, but may be used for books, transportation, childcare, or other living expenses to support the recipient toward her educational goals.
"I was terrified of returning to school when I started at Genesee Community College," Cheryl said. "But the people there have been wonderful, both the students and professors. It's a good bunch of people."
Cheryl's English instructor in particular, Kathleen Kreis, who teaches in the Arcade campus center, has been especially encouraging. She urged Cheryl to participate in the college's 40th anniversary essay contest last year and Cheryl was one of the award winners. This year, Cheryl entered the college's annual poetry contest and was again successful.
Cheryl hopes that with continued hard work, she will be successful in her career as well. She plans to look for employment as a paralegal once she completes her studies at Genesee, and may possibly continue her education at a baccalaureate college or university. One day she hopes to open a shelter and apply her paralegal skills to helping other battered women through the necessary legal procedures so they can live better lives.
For more information about the Jeanette Rankin scholarship, go to www.rankinfoundation.org.