“It’s about giving these kids an opportunity to shine,” said Marc Kimball referring to the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Minnesota’s ‘Beat the Odds’ program. The four seniors honored at the Beat the Odds dinner on Tuesday, February 26 are Maricruz Monreal, a senior at Johnson High School, Justin Haynes McKizzie, a senior at Washburn High School, Maipacher Her, a senior at Harding High School, and Fadumo Hassan, a senior at Edison High School.
Annually, CDF awards scholarships to further their education to high school seniors who have overcome difficult and exceptional challenges to become personally and academically successful. More than 80 students applied this year, each one very deserving, said Kimball. After a thorough review of each application by a selection panel, fifteen finalists were interviewed face-to-face and videotaped. They shared their inspirational life stories, their passions and their dreams. Selecting the final four was difficult said Kimball.
Ultimately, the panel saw in each honoree, “a dedication to wanting to succeed, who by all rights should have given up a long time ago,” says Kimball. “It’s inspiring. These kids who had to overcome everything, just because they have something inside them that said, I can do better. I can have a better life.” This scholarship will provide them tools so they can go on and have a career and make changes for a positive,” continued Kimball.
The following extracts from the students’ stories, provided by CDF, demonstrate their strengths:
At a very young age, Maricruz Monreal and her close-knit family emigrated from Mexico to California. They had to overcome cultural and financial barriers, but the most difficult challenge for Monreal was dealing with her epilepsy.
While Monreal has mastered English, her hard-working parents still struggle to speak it, which has hampered their ability to land better-paying jobs. Today Maricruz maintains a 3.2 GPA, works part-time to help her family, volunteers at both church and school, and last year she organized a school blood drive. She plans to study Nursing or Nutrition in college.
Justin Haynes McKizzie, throughout his traumatic and chaotic childhood, was besieged by poverty, violence, homelessness, as well as his father’s physical abuse and his mother’s addiction to crack. By age 10, he had already lived in numerous shelters, rehab and independent living facilities, as well as with various relatives.
Although he missed a year and a half of school – he dropped out in the 9th grade – he returned and applied himself to his studies, and is now on track to graduate. In high school he helped lead his football team to the state playoffs, participated in track, and plans to play college football in Rochester, Minnesota. He and his foster father volunteer at the Target Foundation, and he helps out at the church where his foster father is a pastor. McKizzie plans to study carpentry, business and architecture in college.
For the past six years Maipacher Her has had to face the devastating effects of the murder of her father by her mother. Feeling alone and not knowing how to get through her grief, Her withdrew and delved into her studies for the next several years. But the deep sadness never left her. Despite being at the top of her class, Her’s achievements never diminished her pain.
Finally, in her junior year the pain caught up to her and Her broke down. She sought help to deal with her grief and learned to focus less on her schoolwork and more on taking care of herself. Today, Her provides leadership in school clubs, volunteers in the community, and remains an accomplished student. She plans to major in Neuroscience and minor in creative writing in college.
When the 35W bridge fell into the Mississippi River last summer, Fadumo Hassan’s own support system collapsed as well. Her pregnant aunt, Sacdiyo Sahal, who was like a second mother to Hassan, was killed, along with Sahal’s two-year-old child. As a young child in war-torn Somalia, Hassan lost her mother, and in Minnesota, she and her siblings were abandoned by their father.
Hassan had found solace and a mother figure in her Aunt Sacdiyo. Her aunt was the one person with whom she could share her problems. When the bridge collapsed, Fadumo found herself alone again, but rededicated to her future. She dedicates herself to her studies, and has earned 16 college credits through the University of Minnesota Post-Secondary Options program. Hassan plans to study dentistry in college and is considering several schools for her undergraduate studies.
Kimball notes, “Where they get the strength to carry on, sometimes it baffles me.” He expresses that it is the CDF’s privilege to offer these four students scholarships.
Two of the students, Monreal and Her, participate in an after-school program called Admission Possible (AP) that is designed to help students prepare for college. Jim McCorkell, founder and CEO of AP, states in AP’s press release, “They [Monreal and Her], along with the other award winners, provide inspiration not only to students but also to a Twin Cities community full of caring individuals like those at the CDF who want so much to see every hardworking student achieve great success.”