Dana Clark was 14 years old and a freshman at Bishop McNamara High School when she was diagnosed with epilepsy.
At first, Clark, who finished high school with a 3.2 grade-point average, worried about how the disorder might affect her plans to study medicine and become a pediatric neurologist.
Four years later, however, her worries have turned to pride as she prepares to enter Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans with help from Reid Temple AME Church in Glenn Dale, which awarded her a $10,000 scholarship.
Clark and her family attribute her success, despite the difficulties caused by her illness, to her strong will, family support and faith in God.
"God is faithful," said the Rev. David Clark, an associate minister at the church, who described his daughter's struggle as nothing short of a miracle. "When we saw her have a seizure and her eyes were rolled back in her head, her entire future flashed before my eyes, and I wondered what kind of life would she have, but my daughter was determined."
Clark was one of 20 students who received undergraduate scholarships Sunday ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. The church, which built and moved into a new building not long ago, has given out scholarships for years. But this year's total award amount -- $100,000 -- was the most the church has ever distributed. It included money for books for several graduate students.
The Rev. Lee P. Washington, senior pastor of Reid Temple, said the scholarship money comes from members' tithes and offerings. "Reid Temple didn't sell any chicken or pork to raise this money," he said.
The scholarship winners, all of whom are members of the church, were required to write an essay and submit their SAT scores and grades. The church's scholarship committee also considered the level of the students' involvement in the church, said Sandra Thompson, a spokeswoman for Reid Temple.
For example, Marita Gethers, a graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt and recipient of a $9,000 scholarship, maintained a 3.5 grade-point average and took part in the church's dance ministry and step team. She will attend Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla., in the fall.
Gethers said seeking the scholarship gave her a sense of responsibility and the opportunity to have an impact on her education. In her application she wrote, "although I have two parents, it is solely my mother who has taken care of me financially and emotionally. Contributing my part seems to me another way to demonstrate the appreciation I have for her being such a big influence in my life."
Clark was also grateful to her family.
She wrote that she would draw from her experience with epilepsy in her career as a doctor.
"I already know the fears that come with having seizures," she wrote in her application. "From my own parents' experience, I know of the tears that are shed by moms and dads out of love for their child."