Marie Dingle's alarm sounds at 5 a.m., before the sun rises and hours before her children, Jerrod, 17, and Stephanie, 12, wake up. She puts her feet on the ground and immediately does her morning exercises, then gets out of her sweats and has breakfast, usually something light. She watches “Good Morning America” while sipping coffee, taking a moment for herself. She finally gets her kids up and ready for school, a task that can take longer than it seems. Dingle has them all out the door by 7:20. She wouldn't have it any other way. Dingle, 47, has worked long and hard to obtain this hectic morning schedule. As a single mother, she made the decision at 40 years old to go back to school to get a job with a schedule better suited for her family's lifestyle. "I knew I would be a single parent soon because my husband of ten years was seriously ill," Dingle says. "I wanted to go into education because my schedule would coincide with my children's. I didn't have a college degree at the time, and I knew I needed to achieve this goal if I wanted to make the move to education." Dingle found financial help and support from the ANSWER Scholarship Endowment, an endowment started by another single mother, Susan Andersen of Ballantyne, to help women go back to school. “I guess it all began when I was a student at UNC Charlotte and received a partial scholarship,” says Andersen. “I always wanted to pay it back somehow. Starting the endowment is just my way of paying it forward and giving moms raising children an opportunity to go back to school.” The endowment’s name is an acronym for Andersen Nontraditional Scholarship for Women’s Education and Retraining and was created in 2006 after Andersen divorced her husband of 22 years. She had volunteered in her community helping mothers and children, and she realized she could help them by turning the difficulty of her divorce into other women's bright futures. "I saw so many single mothers struggling to both provide for their families and raise them,” says Andersen. “We are trying to break the cycle of poverty by helping moms get an education and hopefully inspiring their children to get one as well.” Andersen began the foundation with her own money, a fact she is humbled by. As a Mary Kay consultant, she made her own living with a little extra to spare, helping her award her first scholarships. Since 2006, the endowment has awarded $76,000 to 37 recipients. "I was very fortunate in my situation, and when I looked around, I realized a lot of single moms raising kids weren’t as fortunate,” Andersen says. “My divorce was a very sad time for me, but I wanted to turn a sad experience into a positive one. I knew I wanted to give back to other moms.” The partial scholarships, which range from $1,000 to $4,000, are also provided by independent donors. The endowment received a $10,000 grant in 2010 from the Leon Levine Foundation, which Andersen said helped continue its efforts. Scholarship applicants must be women 25 years or older with at least one school-age child working toward a four-year undergraduate degree or a two-year nursing degree. "Even with the economic crisis, I want to be able to help these women continue their education," Andersen says. “That's what separates us from other scholarship programs. We don’t just give them a check and forget about them. We want to be involved in their lives and give them the support they need to make it to graduation." The endowment has a mentoring program that was previously optional for scholarship recipients. It will now be required that they meet with mentors provided by the endowment, to help them get through the difficult times of life as both students and a parents. “Most of our mentors are past recipients, so they know exactly how the women are feeling,” says Andersen. “They can give them a hand up, a reassurance that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” Of the women who have received scholarships, four have received their master’s and four are currently working on the degree. Marie Dingle is one of these women, having received her bachelor’s in social work in 2009 and her master’s in library and information studies in 2011. She says that even as a single parent, life as a full-time student was much easier than when she worked full time at her previous job with the United States Postal Service Legal Department. She said her schedule was flexible as a student, and she was able to raise her family and attend school. “It was tough, but I feel great having crossed a couple big things off my bucket list," says Dingle. "I consider higher education very important. It's a gateway to a better future." Alison Thornburg, 36, is currently working on her bucket list, as she in enrolled at the Carolinas College of Health and Science to earn her nursing degree. She is a single mother to her daughter Emily, 12, and a current recipient of the ANSWER Scholarship Endowment. “I wish I had gone to school 15 years ago, but I was nervous and it never seemed like the right time,” says Thornburg. “I am sacrificing a lot right now to be a mother and a student, but it will all be worth it when I can provide for my family. Luckily, my daughter is very understanding.” Thornburg said she takes her job as a student very seriously, but her job as a mother always comes first. She’s trying to use the difficult times to teach her daughter life lessons and inspire her to achieve her goals. “She understands that for a few years we are going to be very busy and may not have everything we would like,” says Thornburg. “I think that it’s important for Emily to understand that even though it was not easy, it is worth all the sacrifices, and she will hopefully apply this to her life. She thinks she might like to be a nurse, too.” Thornburg says she couldn’t have made it without the help of ANSWER, which helped pay for part of her tuition and living expenses. “Being a single mom is hard enough, but it’d be impossible to also work full time and be a full-time student,” she says. “Every penny helps. With the help of the scholarship, Emily’s father and my wonderful friends, I’ve been able to go back to school and create a better life for my family.” To learn more about the ANSWER Scholarship Endowment, visit www.answerscholarship.org.
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