By Current SPSFBC Recipient
My story is difficult to tell and difficult for some to hear, but I have decided it is time for it to share.
I had a paradox of a childhood; my mother doted on me her youngest child and only biological daughter, and I was raised without the influence of television or other “worldly” activities, such as theaters and roller skating rinks. My father became harsh and intimidating when I was very young, around two years of age, and our home was filled with his yelling, screaming, and insults. Before I began school at age 6, my grandmother and aunt (my father’s mother and sister) babysat me during the day while my parents worked. They were quite the pair. I remember being put into bed with my grandma after my mom dropped me off in the morning, lying stiffly between her and the loaded rifle she kept in bed with her, terrified it would go off and blow me to bits. She informed me grimly every day about how God’s judgement would fall upon me should I dare to wear pants, makeup, or trim my very long hair. Vivid dreams of me hurtling into the flames of hell were described with gloomy despair that I could ever achieve to obtain heaven, and I was also warned about how men would only rape, murder, and dismember my poor preschool-aged body. My aunt was a bit better, but quite unstable as well. She kept a cross made out of foil in her window to keep my grandma away, because she had a “sex demon” in her. They frequently yelled and called each other names. Needless to say, by the time I entered first grade and the real world, I was a petrified little thing, convinced I was bound for hell with no hope of escape. As for men…well, my cousin and uncle had already done their part to reinforce grandma’s words about what they wanted to do to little girls.
During the teen years, I hated my father for the misery he put my mother and me through. I hated school because I was severely bullied. I hated myself because I was ugly, stupid, and couldn’t do anything right. I was depressed, hopeless, and suicidal. I dropped out in 9th grade and got my GED as soon as I was old enough to take the test. I scored one of the top scores in the state that year and won a scholarship; I believed I was never going to make it to adulthood, so I went to school for 6 months and then dropped out to “sow my wild oats” and get a job.
In my twenties I met a young aspiring minister and we began dating. It was my first relationship and I fell hard for this boy. He said God told him I was “the one”, and we were engaged. Suddenly, God changed his mind. I drove to the church with a loaded gun in my hand and a dear friend, who was a pastor there, took it from me. Through a series of small miracles that would take too long to list, I moved to Arizona to begin Bible College, where I lived in and managed group homes to put myself through school. I became close with a professor, Dr. C., and his family. He was the closest to a father I have ever known and is absolutely brilliant. I loved his entire family as my own-in fact, I had a key to their house and could come and go as I pleased. My job was extremely stressful and they knew I needed a place to just get away and crash sometimes. The second year of college, Dr. C. was suddenly let go, without warning or explanation. Everyone was upset, but no reason was given. He began working at an inner-city church and started counseling on the side as well. I became one of his clients. I called him “Dad”, he was 28 years older than me, and I never had a second thought about being left alone for hours with him in his house. My friend was one of his clients as well, and she told me he had been inappropriate with her a couple of times, but of course, he talked his way out of it. After graduation, I moved back to Arkansas and began working at Ozark Guidance Center in the residential treatment center for children and teens. It was also a very stressful job, and I was eventually diagnosed with PTSD and some health problems. I began losing weight, and Dr. C. was very interested in my weight loss as well as every (I mean EVERY) aspect of my life. I was so naïve that I took this as fatherly concern. When I went back to Arizona in 2003 for a friend’s wedding, Dr C. “got permission” from his wife to go to lunch with me, and that’s when he kissed me and professed his love for me. I was stunned, but oh, that Dr. C., he’s a master at what he does. That began an 18-month relationship that ripped me up in many ways. He used everything he knew that he learned from our counseling sessions to use me and keep me trapped; I tried to break away, but that man had a reason and a Scripture to justify everything he said and did. He would make me talk to his wife and convinced me she was okay with our relationship. In 2004, I moved back to Arizona so he could mentor me (I know it’s crazy) and when I saw him behind the pulpit of the church he pastored, it was over for me. I told him, but when I told him he could not touch me again, his response was, “But what if I am teaching you something, and I just can’t help myself?” He went out of the country on a mission trip a few days later and his wife called me crying, saying she found evidence on his computer that he was having an affair with another former Bible College student/counseling client. That was it. The next day, I faced his wife, his son, and his daughter-in-law (who were also pastors) and told them everything. Talk about tough! Afterward, his wife hugged me and apologized. SHE apologized to ME. She said I wasn’t the first or only one. His son thanked me and said they’d suspected for many years, but no one had ever come forward. Dr. C. lost his church, his ministerial license, and his counseling credentials. Come to find out, he was a predator. He would “counsel” women, learn their past and use that to manipulate them into sexual relationships. He was my dad, professor, pastor, and counselor. To tell you the damage that abuse did to me is impossible. It took years to even start admitting it was abuse and not taking the full weight of blame upon myself. I still can hardly step into a church. I see a female therapist. I honor people for their character, not their education or title.
After Dr. C., I decided to pursue my dream of fostering, and became a foster parent in 2005. I now have two sons through foster care adoption, and we are imperfectly perfect for each other. Autism? Bipolar? ADHD? It’s okay, boys, we’ve got this…after all, God brought me through sexual abuse, emotional/psychological abuse, depression/suicidal ideation, self-injury, clergy/therapist abuse to prepare me to be strong enough to fight for my children. All my journeys led to them. I would never have the voice to speak for them, the confidence to go back to college, the ability to persevere through hell and high water, if it weren’t for the battles already won.
I am presently studying at the NWACC and am looking to pursue a career as a licensed psychological examiner.
Sarah shares her story with us about her struggles as a single mother attending college and achieving her dream of becoming a dentist and giving back to her community.
Video by Element Studio
By Andrea Milton with Christine Nance
Since 1984, Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Benton County (SPSF/BC) has awarded more than 8,000 scholarships totaling more than $6 million to single parents in Benton County. These single parents come from a multitude of situations and circumstances, but they all arrive at SPSF/BC with one goal in mind: to better their lives and the lives of their children. For more than 30 years, SPSF/BC has seen many successes from thousands of single parents. Christine Nance is one of those success stories, and her journey has led her to a beautiful family and successful career right here in Northwest Arkansas. Her story begins like this…
“When I was an infant, my father was sent to prison and remained there for the next 14 years. My mother remarried, but was physically abused. Under the circumstances, I did well in school, had good grades and attended Bentonville High School, where I was on Drill Team and Student Council. Then my world crashed on Oct. 18, 1993. My mother picked me up from school and informed me that my father was being charged with the murder of an 18-year-old woman in Little Rock. A year later, on Christmas morning, the victim’s mother took her own life, leaving behind her husband and son. After this, I dropped out of high school, got pregnant with my daughter at the age of 15, and was married at the age of 16. I worked two to three jobs trying to make ends meet, but found myself divorced at the age of 18 with a 2-yearold little girl.
In 2001, I began working at the Benton County Sheriff office in the hail. It was supposed to be a temporary job, but soon turned into a career. After six long years, I realized I didn’t want a career in law enforcement. I was a single mother and did not have a college education. A friend of mine told me about the Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Benton County (SPSF/BC). I went into their office in 2007 knowing that I wanted to further my education, but had no clue how to get there or where to begin. SPSF/BC helped me get tires for my car, helped provide Christmas for my daughter and offered counseling services to me. If it was not for the ladies and gentlemen at this scholarship office, I would not be who I am today.
I have great accomplishments that I am very proud of. I worked for the Benton County Sheriff’s office for 10 years, five of those years as a sergeant. In 2011, I was able to make a transition in the business community, working as an intern for a local supplier while completing my degree. This led to my current position as a replenishment manager for Sam’s Club, where I have been working for the past three years. I have a healthy, beautiful 17-year-old daughter, who attends Bentonville High School and has a 4.0 GPA. I have completed my associate of arts degree at NWACC and my bachelor’s degree in organizational management from John Brown University. I served on the board of directors for the Police Athletic League of Benton County from 2010 to 2012, volunteer at the Salvation Army and have mentored at Saving Grace.
However, this has been a long journey. On Nov. 28, 2005, my father was executed and has since become the last person to be executed in the state of Arkansas. In 2007, my grandmother passed away and, in 2008, my 2-year-old nephew passed away. After this, I was ready to give up on school, but this program kept me going. Without the counseling services, their personal support, encouragement and seeing something in me that I couldn’t see in myself, I would not have continued to work towards my college education, and I would not have accomplished the things that I have today.
While working in law enforcement and seeing the need in this area for foster care families, my boyfriend and I decided to begin our journey as foster parents. Our first placement was twin 3-year-old girls, who completely stole our hearts. After they left our home, we continued to pray for them every day. We fostered a total of seven children over the years. Then, this last January, we adopted two boys we had been fostering. We decided after the adoption in January we would close our home for a while to focus on the boys. Two weeks prior to ending this chapter in our lives as foster parents, DHS called and told us they had the twin girls back and asked if we could take them. Immediately, we said yes, not knowing the outcome of their futures or ours as a family.
Needless to say, the easiest decision of our lives was to say yes to all four of these little ones and to provide them their forever home. We adopted the twins in June! We now have one starting her senior year in high school, three in kindergarten and one in preschool.
Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Benton County is more than a scholarship fund, I consider them a part of my family and love each and every one of them.
I am now proud to say that I am serving as vice chair of the Alumni Council with a huge passion for this program. Our Alumni Council motto is “Learn, Earn and Return.” I hope that I can help give back to this program and help other single parents overcome obstacles while they are working on their degrees, just like SPSF/BC helped me. It is also my hope to instill in my children the importance of believing in others and giving back to their community.”
Meet Doctor Rebecca Aleck
Author: Martha Kungle, Freeman Health System Communications Editor
The newest member of Freeman Neosho medical team, Dr. Rebecca Aleck, knew she wanted to be a doctor from the time she was very small. Although she understood her calling at a young age, it took her a while to realize the dream. She wrestled with many obstacles – growing up in a dysfunctional family, winding up in foster care, living homeless on the streets as a teenager, escaping an abusive relationship as a young woman and bringing up two children as a single parent – but still found the wherewith- al to put herself through medical school and become an internal medicine specialist.
Dr. Aleck spent about half of her first 12 years in a hospital bed. She remembers the doctor who told her that everything was going to be OK. “He looked me in the eyes and told me he was going to make me better,” Dr. Aleck said. “It was the first time a doctor had spoken directly to me instead of my mother.” At that moment, she knew she wanted to be like him and spend her life helping people.
Dr. Aleck’s parents moved around a lot when she was young. A self-described “Army brat,” she says her family was troubled. After her parents’ divorce, she lost touch with her father and eventually went into the foster care system, a ward of the court. When she turned 18 she got booted out of the foster care system. This is a common problem for kids in foster care – they become adults technically, but have no support system to help them ease into the responsibilities and challenges of living on their own.
For a while, she lived in a cramped apartment with a bunch of other kids, but it was not a good or safe environment. She soon found herself on the streets, sleeping and eating where she could.
Eventually, she reconnected with her dad and moved to Northwest Arkansas, where she gave birth to two children, worked at different jobs and began nursing school. Unfortunately, she had become involved in a relationship with a man who abused her. Her domestic situation got to be so bad that she had to pack up her kids and move away from the area. Her choices were clear. “I could stay and likely die, or I could leave,” she said. “I left.”
The next years passed peacefully as Dr. Aleck settled into a work routine and devoted herself to her children. “Eventually though, I realized I hadn’t achieved any of the dreams I had for my life,” she said. In 2004, when her employer started laying off people, she decided that if she lost her job, she would go back to school to become a doctor and set
a goal for herself of being well on her way to completing her medical education by the time she was 40.
Before she went back to school, Dr. Aleck told her children they weren’t going to have a lot of money for a while and would have to live on a strict budget. She promised them, however, that she would not miss out on any of their activities because of her schedule. Her children, a son named Terry and daughter Tosha, supported her wholeheartedly and encouraged her to go for her dreams.
While medical education is expensive, Dr. Aleck believes that anyone of modest means can afford it with the help of loans, scholar- ships, and grants that help pay back the cost of the loans. Programs like Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Benton County helped her budget and cover bills while in school. For her, applying for medical school was an act of faith. “I filled out the paperwork, crossed my fingers and gave it to God,” she said.
By the time Dr. Aleck finished medical school, her children were grown and the next step in her journey was to complete a residency program. She called numerous residency programs, but one, St. Barnabas Hospital in Bronx, New York, said yes to her call, and she moved to the Big Apple. “I went from single mom to single person living in New York City.”
The experience Dr. Aleck received at St. Barnabas, a Level I Trauma Center located in one of the most densely populated areas of the country, is invaluable. As a resident there, she treated people from all over the world. The sheer volume of patients and the rare diseases she encountered gave her an education she could have gotten few other places.
Dr. Aleck completed her residency at St. Barnabas Hospital in Bronx, New York in the spring of 2014. She began her practice with Freeman Neosho Physician Group almost immediately thereafter. While many of her fellow residents at St. Barnabas were scrambling with job appli- cations and interviews, Dr. Aleck had her position in Neosho all lined up. During medical school, she spent her clinical rotations, sometimes called internships, at Freeman Neosho. “I liked the culture there,” she said. “The doctors and the patients were so welcoming, kind and nice, I knew that was the place I wanted to work. Today, I am more mature and have the dedication and commitment to be successful. I’ll always remember where I came from and the people who helped me succeed.”
2016 Update: Rebecca Aleck is now proudly working at Northwest Medical Center with her very own clinic in Bentonville.