From One Death, Help for A Dream

Yordanos Yalewayker, right, and Anna Thomas in their AU dorm room. "I definitely would not be here without the scholarship," Yalewayker says.
Yordanos Yalewayker, right, and Anna Thomas in their AU dorm room. "I definitely would not be here without the scholarship," Yalewayker says. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
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By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 11, 2008

As an 8-year-old growing up in Ethiopia, Yordanos Yalewayker saw her mother die of breast cancer, leaving her father to raise Yalewayker and her three sisters alone.

When the Yalewaykers immigrated to Rockville in 2004, the four girls were determined to become doctors and research a cure for cancer. But with her father supporting the family on a hotel bellhop's salary, Yalewayker knew that college, let alone medical school, could be out of reach.

She excelled at Wheaton High School, graduating in the spring after taking honors classes, playing tennis and tutoring peers. Yalewayker, 18, was accepted by American University, but to enroll she would have been saddled with more than $20,000 in student loans.

But an anonymous Montgomery County benefactor stepped in to award Yalewayker a $20,000 scholarship to attend American, where she started her freshman year last month.

"It's my dream," she said. "It's allowed me to come to this great school and fulfill my dreams. It's going to be my life."

"I definitely would not be here without the scholarship," Yalewayker said one afternoon last week, sitting on a bench outside the campus library. "It gave me a good opportunity to get the best education and actually grow from it. It's something I won't forget for the rest of my life, because this is where it begins."

Yalewayker is the inaugural recipient of a college scholarship fund created for deserving Montgomery County public school students who have lost a parent to breast or ovarian cancer. The Sherry S. Hintz Scholarship Fund is titled after a composite of family names of the donor, a Silver Spring woman who made the gift anonymously and asked to remain unnamed.

The donor was 19 and a freshman in college when her mother died of breast cancer. She moved home to Rhode Island, transferred to a college there and helped take care of her 14-year-old sister.

"It had been very overwhelming for me to try to get through college right after my mother's death," she said.

Three decades later, the donor, a prosperous writer, established a scholarship fund to help students who have lost a parent.

"It's hard enough to lose a parent, and it's really hard to lose a parent and to go to college," she said. "I'm hoping that that eases the strain somehow. It doesn't make it all better, it doesn't take away the grief, but if it eases part of that, that would be my goal."

The fund is administered by the Montgomery County Community Foundation, which runs several dozen other scholarship programs on behalf of philanthropists.

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