Two York County mothers have overcome challenges to find ANSWER, which helped them earn college degrees from Winthrop University. Undergraduate commencement ceremonies are at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday at Winthrop Coliseum.
Part their success stems from the support of mentors and scholarships provided by ANSWER, a nonprofit based in Charlotte that provides financial and professional support to Charlotte region mothers with school-aged children.
“Never in a million years did I think I would be here,” said Sheri Perez-Segura, 41, of Rock Hill. “Never did I believe I would be graduating, especially from a four-year college.”
With her mother’s consent, Perez-Segura dropped out of middle school at age 13 in her hometown of Richmond Hill, Ga.
“I come from a background that education wasn’t important; it wasn’t valued,” she said.
A few years later, Perez-Segura realized she needed an education. She attended a private high school in Richmond Hill, where she worked in the school’s canteen to pay for tuition, according the ANSWER press release.
Perez-Segura also worked third shift at Waffle House full time to earn money for her family after her father lost his job. Both parents succumbed to drug and alcohol addiction, the release says.
“I know if she was (here), she would be so proud that I didn’t go the same path as her,” Perez-Segura said of her mother.
At 16, Perez-Segura’s eldest daughter of four children wanted to leave school.
“Until I was having that conversation with my child did I realize the importance of education,” she said. “I wanted to make sure I instilled in my children that education is important, and the only way I could do that was by going back to school myself and putting forth that effort.”
At age 35, Perez-Segura earned her GED in 2011 and began working toward a degree at York Technical College before transferring to Winthrop.
The impact it has made on my children is amazing. If you educate the mother, you educate the entire family.
Sheri Perez-Segura, Rock Hill mom
She is set to receive her bachelor’s degree in family and consumer sciences, with concentrations in early childhood and adolescent studies.
“If it wasn’t for the connections I have here at Winthrop, I would never had made it this far,” she said. “The impact it has made on my children is amazing. If you educate the mother, you educate the entire family.”
For Fort Mill mom Jackie Bithorn, her 8-year-old son also is the reason she works hard.
Bithorn survived sexual assault and lost both parents at an early age, the release says. Bithorn, a single mother, worked part-time jobs and after being laid off, decided it was time for a change.
“I realized there is a purpose to be filled that was greater than just having a job for the sake of income and getting a 401K,” she said.
Bithorn earned an associate degree in criminal justice. Now she’s earned a bachelor’s in sociology from Winthrop with only one B in her two years at Winthrop.
“I felt like I wanted to give back and be able to do something positive with the experiences,” Bithorn said. “Counseling is one of my passions.”
I felt like I wanted to give back and be able to do something positive with the experiences.
Jackie Bithorn, Fort Mill mom
Like Perez-Segura, Bithorn credits the ANSWER mentorship and support at Winthrop with helping her success.
“The most beneficial aspect of the ANSWER scholarship program is being able to connect with other moms who are in the same situation,” she said. “One of the main reasons I’m doing this is for my son and to leave a legacy he can be proud of.”
- ANSWER has funded 83 scholarships for 44 local moms since its inception more than a decade ago.
- Scholarship recipients can be single or married, but all have children in grades K-12 at home.
- Every ANSWER scholar receives a mentor to provide support and guidance on the challenges of managing home, work and school.
Information from ANSWER
Want to help?
The Leon Levine Foundation will give ANSWER $15,000 if the organization can match that donation by May 31, 2017.
Visit answerscholarship.org and choose donate to help. Checks may be mailed to 6420 Rea Road, suite 112, Charlotte, NC 28277.
Donations that qualify include first-time donors, 2016 donors who increase their contribution amount and past donors who did not give in 2016.