Faced with challenges in life; faced with losing everything precious and dear; one can either give up, or use that experience as a motivation to make things better. To get back what was lost and turn their lives around; not only for themselves, but also for their loved ones, takes tremendous courage and fortitude – characteristics typically not associated with people who have reached bottom. The ability to turn your life around is something to be admired and recognized.
Such is the case of one of this year’s recipients of a Kiwanis Turnaround Scholarship. At 22, Cassandra seems just like any other student – shy, hopeful with dreams of the future for her and her daughter, Mattea. But as she told her story in front of hundreds of supporters and admirers at the 16th Annual Kiwanis Scholarship Benefit, her shyness fell away as she stood in the spotlight at Villa Ragusa in Campbell. Her friendly infectious smile helped make everyone feel comfortable until they heard the tale of the turns her life had taken.
At age 17, Cassandra became addicted to methamphetamine. Until her 21st birthday, she continued along a spiral that took her further and further away from the young woman she is today. Homeless and addicted to meth, Mattea, was taken away by Child Protective Services. That’s when I hit bottom – when I lost Mattea. That’s when I vowed to turn things around. Mattea, now 3, is obviously the light of Cassandra’s eyes and one of the many reasons she has vowed to stay clean and to make something of her life.
Cassandra was one of several recipients of the generosity of Kiwanis International through their Turnaround Scholarship program. The program provides financial assistance and personal recognition to at-risk high school seniors. These students might have different backgrounds, but they all have a common story. They started their high school years faced with some sort of serious personal problems, such as substance abuse and addiction, abusive parents and guardians and poverty or homelessness. As with their common beginnings, the scholarship recipients all have similar turned-around stories – they’re courageous young people who overcame life-challenging obstacles and are looking forward to completing college or trade school education. Most scholarships provide $1,000 per student and winners are encouraged to reapply for future funds toward continuing their education – no matter where – in college, university or a trade school.
Started in 1968, when the East San Jose Club granted scholarships to students in seven high schools of the East Side Union High School District. As the district expanded, the Kiwanis Club of San Jose Foundation joined the effort to raise additional scholarship money, and in 1996, these two Kiwanis organizations held the first Turnaround Scholarship Benefit raising $2,500. Inspired by the success of the program, other Kiwanis Clubs began their own programs to benefit their local high school districts. There are now 16 Kiwanis Clubs participating in the program with a goal to provide $150,000 in new scholarships to at-risk students. For more information on the Turnaround Scholarship Program, please contact the Kiwanis Club of San Jose Foundation at 408-867-1701.