Elizabeth Bradley of Clover thought her past would keep her from helping others, but thanks to a Charlotte-based scholarship program, she is now on track to fulfill her dreams.
Bradley, 36, grew up in a poor neighborhood in Bessemer City, N.C., with a mother who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. Bradley witnessed domestic violence on multiple occasions.
Bradley’s family moved often, staying in women’s shelters, hotels and with friends and family as her mother became unable to work.
“Schizophrenia doesn’t exactly take a day off,” Bradley said. “We sort of started taking care of ourselves.”
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At age 16, Bradley moved with a boyfriend to York.
“I was just tired of it,” she said.
Bradley tried to enroll in school but needed parental consent because she was younger than 17. She got a job and, about a year later, gave birth to her now 18-year-old daughter.
Bradley earned her GED while pregnant. At age 21, she had a son, now 14. She was a single mom of two working full time.
“I knew all this talent I had inside was being wasted, and I knew I wanted to help abused and neglected children,” Bradley said.
Bradley earned her associate’s degree in 2014 at Gaston College while working full time. Bradley thought her education would end there.
However, thanks to the Charlotte-based scholarship program ANSWER, Bradley will graduate on Dec. 15 from Montreat College with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and human services.
ANSWER is a nonprofit that provides financial and professional support to Charlotte region mothers with school-age children.
Bradley, who was awarded the scholarship in 2016, was the perfect recipient, said ANSWER’s founder Susan Andersen.
“With her resiliency, perseverance and determination, she set this example for her children and herself,” Andersen said.
Bradley’s daughter, Skylar, also graduated this year and is a freshman at York Technical College. Skylar plans to transfer to Winthrop University next year, Bradley said.
“I’m extremely proud of that,” Bradley said.
After graduation, Bradley will continue working as a financial specialist at Carolina Therapeutic Services Health in Gastonia, N.C., a foster care and child behavioral health agency. Bradley also works part-time loading and unloading planes at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
She said she hopes her expanded education will open more doors for her to work in psychology and help foster children. Bradley said during her childhood she experienced what abused children go through.
“It was the stories of the children around me,” she said. “I was put on this earth to help them. God gave me that drive. As soon as I put forth the effort, the doors flung wide open.”
Bradley also has taken on leadership roles with ANSWER, leading other mothers. Bradley said she will be a mentor in the program once she graduates.
“She’s been a great ambassador for the organization,” Andersen said.
Bradley said the program has given her dream life.
“It went from having a very closed box dream to opening the box and turning it into an entire room or the world,” she said. “They took what I believed in myself and accelerated it. Now I believe I can do anything I can put my hands on.”
ANSWER is accepting scholarship applications from mothers who want to go to college for the 2019-2020 school year. For more information, visit answerscholarship.org.