Four local women received Virginia Wrage Memorial Grants from Zonta Club of SCV at the group’s monthly business meeting Dec. 8. The four were chosen from a record 36 applications who wrote Zonta to explain why the applicants were seeking the grants and how the funds will help them on the way to self-sufficiency.
Individual grants are available up to $2,000 and Zonta presented $6,500 in awards of varying denominations this year.
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The four recipients were chosen after a review of their applications and a personal interview with committee members. The four are Eden Perez-Chavez, Nanette Ferrara, Erika Lynn Hallen and Fashia Skjelstad.
Perez-Chavez (pictured above with Zontian Terry Kanowsky) is a divorced single mother. Like Virginia Wrage, Zonta’s grant namesake, she always dreamed of a career flying America’s skies. She became a flight attendant, but soon found that she suffered from airsickness and had to be grounded. Perez-Chavez weathered that setback by flying a desk until she married. At her husband’s insistence she left her beloved career when she had her daughter, who is now 8 years old.
She obtained a real estate license but at the age of 40, her marriage unraveled and with the economy, she is unable to support herself and daughter selling real estate. She has returned to school to earn her AA degree in business and intends to use her scholarship to pay for tuition and books. She is an avid volunteer in her local elementary school, handling clerical, cafeteria, library and playground supervision roles.
Ferrara heard of Zonta’s grant program through the Betty Ferguson Foundation and her volunteer efforts for that organization. She is married and the sole support of her husband of many years, who is awaiting a liver transplant. Unfortunately, she was laid off from her 26 year career in advertising for a major retail chain in July of 2006.
Using her retirement benefits, she tried opening her own business but was blindsided in that endeavor with the economic recession of 2008. After caring for her husband for many years, she has decided she would like to return to school to earn a nursing degree. She is currently attending College of the Canyons and then plans to transfer to Mount St. Mary’s to take part in their accelerated BSN program, which she will complete in fall 2011. Ferrara will use her scholarship award for tuition, books and uniform needs at both COC and The Mount.
Hallen was left the sole support of two children, aged 20 and 3, when her husband of 14 years abandoned them. On the heels of that trauma, she lost her home to foreclosure and the pharmacy position she had held for the last 10 years. Homeless, she brought her family home to Santa Clarita to live with her parents and begin again.
She is currently a full time student at both College of the Canyons and Cal State Bakersfield, studying to become a teacher. Hallen plans to use her scholarship, along with a Pell Grant and other funding, to complete her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies in the spring of 2011 and her teaching credential by December 2011. She is an honor student at COC, a member of Gamma Beta Phi Honor Society, and currently in the top five percent of her class.
She plans to earmark some of her award for childcare needs but hopes to be able to spend as much time as possible with her 3-year-old daughter while helping advise her stepdaughter, by example, on how to persevere and realize her own college goals.
Skjelstad is a single parent with two small children who, even with a secure job with College of the Canyons, finds herself in financial difficulties and applying for limited welfare. She has reached a promotional ceiling without further education so she is also attending classes at COC to complete the undergraduate degree that, due to marriage and family, she was unable to complete in the past.
Her ultimate goal is to enter a marriage/family therapist degree program to become a licensed marriage and family counselor. Skjelstad’s focus is to work with re-entry adults or former foster youth to counsel and assist them in planning their educational goals. Her most pressing need is for an updated, mobile computer. She plans to use her grant award to purchase a laptop PC.
“All our award winners show grace and courage in the face of often overwhelming obstacles,” remarked Terry Kanowsky, chair of this year’s Virginia Wrage Committee. “As Zontians, it gives us great pleasure to lighten their load, if only briefly, and help them on their paths to self sufficiency.”
Virginia Wrage Memorial Awards are presented to mature women who need help to achieve emotional, social and economic independence following a life-altering event. The program is named for a Zontian who also faced a midlife career crisis and pursued her dream to become a flight attendant. Shortly after, she succumbed to cancer, but before her passing she authorized the local Zonta Club to fund an award program in her honor.
The four recipients attended this week’s Zonta business meeting to meet their benefactors personally and share their stories. Virginia Wrage's son, Randy, was also on hand to meet the honorees.