Batavia, NY- Julie Flanagan always wanted to go to college. After watching her daughter and daughter-in-law graduate from community college a few years ago, it was time. “I just had a tugging on my heartstrings that I could do this,” she said. Not only has Flanagan excelled as a student at Genesee Community College’s Dansville Campus Center, she accepted an invitation to join the honor society Phi Theta Kappa (PTK). She recently learned she’s been chosen a Coca-Cola Leader of Promise Scholar and will receive a $1,000 scholarship from PTK.
At 64, Julie is not a traditional college student. She’s also the first of her five siblings to go to college. But she’s always had a passion for learning. She worked for ten years as a religious educator in children’s and youth ministry for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester. While there, she was certified in religious education at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry. “I’ve taken courses here and there over a 20-year period,” she said. “I’m truly a lifelong learner. Wherever there was a chance to take a seminar, a class, or improve my skills for work, I tried to take advantage of the opportunity.”
A fall while working at a part-time job put Julie on permanent disability. She endured three back surgeries, a hip replacement and several other procedures, most recently a shoulder replacement. But she continued to pursue community involvement. She helped to found The Handiwork Ministry, a group that created handmade items of care and comfort for those in need. An offshoot still operates in Maryland. “They are my pride and joy and truly have built a strong sense of service and understanding for what ministry is,” Flanagan said. She also volunteers with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Strengthening Families program.
She was motivated to start taking classes last fall at GCC by Justin Randall. Justin suffered a debilitating injury in an alcohol related car crash 32 years ago. He and Julie now give an alcohol awareness presentation called “Think Before You Drive or Ride.” For the past three years she has assisted Justin with promotion and scheduling as well. “This program is so valuable,” she said. “If Justin is ever unable to go on, I would like to continue sharing his story. To effectively do so, I need credentials.” She’s pursuing dual degrees in Human Services and Alcohol and Substance Abuse Studies and expects to graduate in December 2015. “I hope to go on to Keuka College for an ASAP (Accelerated Studies for Adults Program) degree in either social work or drug and alcohol counseling.”
The scholarship from PTK is a big help. She is one of 207 students nationwide to receive the $1,000 award. “It was very uplifting,” Julie said, of learning she had won. “It’s not a tremendous amount of money, but it takes a little bit of the financial pressure off.” Earning the scholarship is an involved process. “It’s not just writing a letter. There was an evaluation and five written essays on various topics. There was a recommendation required from an instructor or professor.” She was told that out of 5,000 students who started the process, only 500 completed it. Independent judges evaluate the applications based on scholastic achievement, community service and leadership potential.
Julie is notably persistent. “I’m the kind of person who thinks outside the box,” she says. “I focus on a goal and work to make that goal happen.” She managed to get two handicapped parking spots on School Street in Dansville to improve access to GCC. “When your joints don’t work well because of arthritis and you live with a debilitating back injury, you work hard to get better access.”
The PTK scholarship is not the first time Julie’s efforts as a student have been honored. Last spring she received the Rochester Area Colleges Continuing Education Award (RACCE), which recognizes adult students who successfully balance their college studies with other responsibilities. Julie is also a recipient of the GCC Foundation Hawley Family Award.
Julie has faced many obstacles but maintains a positive outlook. “I had to make up my mind a long time ago that if I wanted a life with any quality, I would have to find a way either over or around the medical hurdles I faced. I couldn’t see myself just sitting in a chair for the rest of my life.”
She hopes this scholarship award encourages others to be a part of PTK. “This is an organization that, yes you have to accomplish something to get in, but it’s not beyond the ability of many people to do,” she notes. “You just have to say ‘I want to be part of something that shows I set a standard for myself, and I’m willing to work for that.’”
Julie and her husband of 44 years, Michael, make their home in Mt. Morris. They have three grown children, Arden (a 1994 GCC graduate) who is married to Amber; Nathan (a 2013 GCC graduate) who is married to Elizabeth (a student in GCC’s nursing program); and Kathryn, who graduated summa cum laude from SUNY Brockport in May 2014 with a degree in social work and works at the Hickok Center for Traumatic Brain Injury. The Flanagans also have five grandchildren.
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A photograph of Julie Flanagan is available here:
Caption: RACCE winners (l-r) Julie Flanagan and Donna Schmitz with Dansville faculty and staff Grace Harris, Debbie Allen, and Amy Churchfield.