Saunders: Those who’ve received help now hope to help others, too

bsaunders@newsobserver.comJuly 29, 2013 

Suzanne Hugus was happy in her job as an administrative support specialist in N.C. State University’s Department of Agriculture, but she yearned for a career that would “add something” to others’ lives.

Why? I asked.

“Because of all the help I’ve received,” she said. “I want to help others as I’ve been helped in the past. I could be an administrative support person for the rest of my life, but I don’t feel that is contributing directly to the improvement of anyone else’s life.”

Thanks to a GlaxoSmithKline Opportunity Scholarship she received in May, Hugus, 51, is going back to school at NCSU to do that. She plans to become a counselor. “I’ve been helped much over the years through counseling because of the issues I’ve had with depression. ... Counselors have helped me to really feel like a valued person, which I doubted at times in the past.”

The Opportunity Scholarship, which Hugus and three others received this year, was established in 1988, said Mary Anne Rhyne, a GSK representative. It can be for as much as $20,000 and is “for people who’d overcome adversity in their lives and who were looking to use education as a way to pursue success,” Rhyne said.

She added that the scholarship program also looks for people who want to help others once they’ve made it.

Hugus does. And so does Tanazja Leonard.

Leonard was rushing, as usual, when Rhyne called to let her know she’d been selected. The just-turned 18-year-old graduate of Durham’s Riverside High School said she was headed to her afterschool job at McDonald’s when she got the news.

Rising above

Rhyne said Hugus and Leonard, as have all of the scholarship winners, “have really risen above some extreme hardships and incredible odds, something that in many cases was thrust upon them. They found that education was a ticket to a better life. They were facing great poverty, abuse and family neglect, having to find their own way in life and having no one to show them.”

Leonard said it was “hard trying to keep up with my studies.” “After school I had to go straight to work almost every day. Most of the time I was on my own, but my older sister helped. She would take me to work.”

Cooking, Leonard said, is her “passion” – a pot of passion stirred when she started cooking with her mother at age 7 and soon found herself cooking for the entire family. She’d planned to attend culinary school, she said, but after visiting one “I decided it wasn’t for me, but I still wanted to do something in the food industry.” She hopes to help people eat nutritiously.

‘What I needed to do’

Leonard attended Durham’s Emily K. Center, which she said “helped me learn to manage my time, make sure I got with my classes and teachers. For all four years of high school... we had meetings about going to college, how I was going to get there, what I needed to do.”

One of the things she and all scholarship winners had to do to apply was write an essay. Leonard asked her teachers at Riverside and with Emily K. to critique hers.

When Leonard arrived at N.C. Central University this summer, she became the first person in her family to attend college. She doesn’t think she’ll be the last. Because of her example, her younger sister is now talking about college, she said. “She’s going, but she’s taking a different route than I am. She doesn’t have Emily K. behind her.”

She does, however, have a big sister behind her – and if she can write, she may one day have a pharmaceutical company behind her, too. or 919-836-2811

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