Athens native LaTrena Stokes is the kind of woman who almost slipped through the cracks.
After overcoming a divorce, working in a low-paying job and finding daycare for her two sons, recent changes to the HOPE Scholarship forced the 39-year-old to consider dropping out of college to make ends meet.
“I did not grow up with a family that was focused on the importance of education and knew the impact it could make,” she said. “Challenges were against me. I was the sole provider for my family, and I was making $1,500 a month. If you’re talking about going back to school, how do you do it and still support your children?”
That’s when she learned about the Jeannette Rankin Foundation, an organization that awards scholarships to low-income women older than 35 who are going to college. The gift Stokes received from JRF in 2011 helped her to pay for her studies at UGA, where she majors in child and family development and religion and also works at the Center for Family Research’s Program for Strong African American Marriages.
Stokes shared her story March 1 in a packed room at the Miller Learning Center on the first day of Women’s History Month during a panel discussion. Sponsored by the Institute for Women’s Studies, the event also featured talks from Michele Pearson, business development representative with the Gwinnett Federal Credit Union, and Sue Lawrence, executive director of JRF Women’s Scholarship Fund.
“Women who have a bachelor’s degree earn almost double what women who don’t graduate from high school earn,” Lawrence told the crowd. “So what happens to women who are above the poverty line with their income yet they don’t quite fit the requirements for the kinds of social programs that are out there? LaTrena is a perfect example of someone who is making it on her own, but for whom a little bit of help is making a big difference.”
Information about other Women’s History Month events is available online at iws.uga.edu.