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.