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  Home : Live Your Dream Awards : 2017 Finalists

2017 Live Your Dream: Education and Training Awards for Women Finalists

It’s been said that real heroes don’t wear capes, they teach. Perhaps that explains why all three of the 2017 Soroptimist Live Your Dream Awards finalists are pursuing dreams of becoming educators. These amazing women have overcome huge life challenges and are on a quest to create better lives for themselves, their families and their communities.

Meet the 2017 Live Your Dream Award finalists. This year, Soroptimist is honored to award $10,000 to three passionate, hard-working, strong women. Below are the stories of Aislinn, Sara and Rochelle.


“I knew, growing up, that some women went to college,” said Aislinn of Madison, Alabama. “When I dropped out of high school in the 9th grade to help support my parents and take care my aging grandparents, I put that thought aside in the ‘not for me’ box.”

Aislinn grew up, got married, and had a daughter. She knew she wanted to make a better life for her daughter. But Aislinn wasn’t content with making a better life for her own daughter. “Everyone is some mother’s precious child and we all want better for our children than the world we are given to work with.”

Aislinn says she knew that uneducated women from rural Alabama did not make the kind of big changes to make the world a more just and kind place. “To do what I needed for my daughter I had to make myself a somebody,” she said. “The only way to make yourself a somebody is to get an education.”

At that point, Aislinn had a GED and some goals, but no real plan. She filled out financial aid paperwork and enrolled in community college. After a few semesters, her grades were good enough to transfer to a local four-year university. It was there, at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, that she found sociology and women’s and gender studies and “fell in love.”

“I recognized my story in all the stories told at college. I see my coursework as an opportunity to change myself, but also to transform my community and my country to be more like the kind world I want everyone’s child to grow up in.”
Aislinn’s journey has been far from easy. Last summer, her husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness. When she sat her daughter down to explain to her what this news would mean for their family, Aislinn told her if they were going to make it, they had to be their best selves.

“I told her we have to be more—we have to do better. I took that phrase from that day as a personal aphorism—‘We can do better!’ When my child has a bad day at school, I tell her ‘We can do better!’ When I make a mistake in my own life—when I’m impatient and discouraged—I shake myself off and say ‘Come on, we can do better!’ And when I see injustice and apathy in my community, I say ‘We can do better!’’’

This statement, as a guiding principle, is a mantra that keeps Aislinn strong and informs the projects and commitments she takes on. She is on track to graduate in May 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and plans to go on to graduate school. From there, her dream is to pursue a teaching and research position at a college or university, where she hopes to teach and mentor others to promote social equality and economic mobility.



Sara grew up in Iraq. Her family sent her to the United States to marry a man she did not know, in hopes that she would have a better, safer life and escape the chaos going on in her country. As it turned out, her marriage proved to be a nightmare, when her husband began physically and mentally abusing her. “I lived in this miserable marriage for 10 years. I did not speak any English and had no friends or family I could ask for help.”

When her children started school, Sara began taking parenting classes that provided resources and information about domestic violence. “I realized that if I wanted to leave, I needed a plan for economic independence, so I enrolled in my local community college.”

But Sara’s husband did not approve of this decision. He ripped up her high school diploma and refused to let her go. “Eventually, I was able to convince him that I would be able to support him with the loan money I would receive for going to school, and he agreed to let me go.”

Within two years, Sara completed her associate’s degree in pre-elementary special education and graduated with honors. From there, she transferred to a four-year university, and then the abuse escalated. “[One day] my husband drove me to the university to force me to drop my classes, threatening to kill me if I did not. But in the parking lot, I was able to get away from him and call the police. University staff was able to help me find a place for my children and myself in a first step shelter.”

saraSara felt lost and scared, as leaving a marriage is considered unacceptable in her culture. She’s still fighting legal issues surrounding her divorce, which she says add a painful layer of emotional and financial struggle, but she is happy that she and her children are surviving and moving forward.

Sara continues to work on her bachelor’s degree in elementary special education and will graduate this year. Her dream is to become a teacher and eventually obtain a PhD so that she can help improve her state’s public schools.

“Education is so important for mothers because they have a major influence on their children’s education. This award will help me continue my education and graduate, so that I can provide a good example for my children and give back to my community.”



As a child, Rochelle dreamed of becoming an elementary school teacher. Growing up in the Philippines, she looked up to her teachers not only as mentors, but as second mothers.

Rochelle describes her own childhood as challenging. “Unlike other kids, I did not have time to play and have fun because there were so many household chores and responsibilities to undertake. My mother worked abroad and as the eldest, I also had to be the mother to my three younger siblings, one of whom has special needs.”

Her difficult upbringing turned even darker, when she was raped by her father and became pregnant with his child at the age of 14. She lived in fear and shame as he continued to rape her over and over again. Wanting to be strong and protect her siblings, she found the courage to tell her aunt, who helped Rochelle file a rape case. After three years in trial court, her father was found guilty and sentenced to a three-term life imprisonment.

rochelleDetermined not to let her past keep her dreams out of her future, Rochelle keeps moving forward to pursue what she calls her “great vision.” “I believe that with [my faith]—combined with hard work, patience, self-confidence, determination, and people who trust me—my dream to get a college education and become a teacher is within arm’s reach.”

Rochelle, who had to put a hold on her own schooling between her elementary and high school years due to financial constraints, does not want the same fate for her own child or her siblings. “I have started to build dreams for them too,” she said. “And as soon as I graduate college and land a job, I will help my mother put them all through college.”

Rochelle is currently working toward a bachelor’s of science degree in education and is scheduled to graduate in 2021.

“I will be more than a teacher and a second mother to my students. “I will help them find value in life no matter how difficult it can be … and help others the way kind-hearted people are helping me now.

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Watch short videos featuring past award recipients

Rebecca Shuflin, 2014

Christina Valadez, 2014

Shirlee Draper, 2014

Dawn Johnson, 2012

Gladyn Minzey, 2011

Kimberly Thompson, 2010

Lisa Boyd, 2010

Lisa Curless, 2009

Joyce Snow, 2008

Colleen Sword, 2008

This is my dream: Tyra Wright-Johnson

This is my dream: Sena Kimbrell

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