|Keynote speaker Congressman Frank Wolf, right, jokes with the “Beat the Odds” scholarship winners after the awards ceremony at the old courthouse in Leesburg May 23. From left, Shannon Hayes of Park View High School, Leanna Moron of Loudoun County High School, Vineetha Thekkel of Tuscarora High School and Jonathan “Cory” Dickey of Loudoun County High School received scholarships for overcoming adversity such as abuse and financial hardship. —Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Beverly Denny|
Looking at Loudoun County High School senior Leanna Moron, one wouldn't suspect the challenges she's overcome.
The poised girl of Thai and Bolivian descent is an academic, sitting within the top 10 percent of her class. She takes time out of her day to work with English Language Learners. She will be attending Penn State to study nursing.
She's also endured multiple traumas, from sexual abuse, financial struggles, alcoholic family members and “tremendous heartache and pain.”
“To know what she has lived through everyday and see her still be who she is is amazing,” said Megan Dunn, a guidance counselor at Loudoun County and the person who nominated Moron for the award.
Moron received a $6,000 scholarship from the Loudoun Bar Association's Beat the Odds program at a ceremony May 24 at the historic courthouse in Leesburg.
“It's an amazing honor,” Moron said. “I'm very thankful for this scholarship and this opportunity.”
The Beat the Odds program awards scholarships to students who have overcome significant life obstacles, such as abuse, illness or poverty. A national program, the Loudoun chapter was founded nine years ago by members of the Loudoun County Bar Association.
“In a given year, there are roughly 245 days we hold court,” said Juvenile and Domestics Court Judge Pamela Brooks, who hosted the ceremony. “I have two favorite days: today and adoption day.”
In addition to Moron, three other students received merit awards at the ceremony.
Jonathan “Cory” Dickey, a senior football player and wrestler at Loudoun County High School, received a $2,000 award. At age 14, he physically stopped his alcoholic father from strangling his mother. His father left and the family was forced to make do with food stamps, social security benefits his mother, who is unable to work, receives and a part-time job Dickey took on. Still, the family was unable to stave off foreclosure.
“I did it not only for myself, but I try to be strong for my brothers,” Dickey said. “It is very tough growing up at an early age but I think it's made me a stronger person in the long run.”
Park View's Shannon Hayes' parents divorced when she eight, after her father's struggles with alcoholism made it unsafe for her. Two years later, her mom became ill and her father moved back in with the family to help out.
“I thought our family was finally growing back together,” Hayes said.
However, her father was diagnosed with Leukemia and died just 15 days before Hayes' 13th birthday. Hayes' family has also struggled financially.
Hayes received a $2,500 award to put toward her education at Penn State, where she plans to study biochemistry to become a genetic engineer.
Vineetha Thekkel of Tuscarora received the third merit award of the evening. Thekkel and her parents came to America in 2009 and the then 13 year old immediately had to take on an adult role, trying to find transportation for the family from the airport. Once the family settled in Leesburg, the young teenager then solicited for jobs for her mother and deaf father. Despite being laughed out by numerous business owners, Thekkel was able to help her parents find employment. They currently each work three jobs.
Thekkel credits much of her success to agencies around Loudoun County who supported her family during their financial struggles with food stamps and free medical care and teachers who personally supported her.
“With their support, I was able to stay on top of my schoolwork,” Thekkel said.
Thekkel will be attending Mt. Vernon Nazarene University in Ohio and hopes to become a missionary doctor. She received a $2,500 scholarship.
Several prominent members of the community came out to support the students, including Board of Supervisor member Ken Reed, School Board member Thomas Reed, Town of Leesburg Mayor Kristen Umstattd and Congressman Frank Wolf, who served as keynote speaker.
Wolf told of his adversities from childhood and being teased as a stutterer and poor student. He told the students their adversity would determine their success, rather their character and ability to overcome.
“Do not be afraid to take on tough issues,” Wolf told the students.
The Beat the Odds program will hold a special event June 13 at the Tally Ho in Leesburg from 5 to 7:30 p.m. The event will serve as both a fundraiser and an opportunity for the community to hear the stories from this year's winners.