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Scholarships 'life-changing' for teen recipients

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
June 7, 2012
— Two homeless Janesville teens said $500 scholarships from the Westgate Homeless Education Action Team will help change their lives.

"This money is huge and the key to my future," said Michelle Nunn, who will receive her diploma at Parker High School this week and use the money to continue her education at UW-Rock County in the fall.


"This is affirmation that somebody else believes in you, and it makes you push harder. I'm going to make it," said Karol Landgren, who graduated in January from Craig High School, finished the certified nursing assistant program at Blackhawk Technical College on Thursday and is enrolling in the nursing program at BTC this fall.


The Westgate Corridor scholarships were created last year by a group of businesses in the Westgate Corridor area of Janesville.


"The unique spin is who receives the scholarships," said Kelli Cameron, director of BTC's Foundation & Alumni Association.


"Both BTC and UW-Rock foundation directors worked with Ann Forbeck with the School District of Janesville and HEAT to identify a student graduating from Janesville high schools who also is homeless," she said.


Forbeck defined students as homeless if they had no fixed, regular or adequate nighttime residence. She nominated Nunn and Landgren.


"Michelle just impresses me. She's amazingly mature, is driven and does everything to accomplish her goals. Her difficult life has made her a strong person. Her heart is wanting to be there for other kids who experience difficult circumstances,'' Forbeck said.


Nunn's goal is to become a teacher.


"Karol graduated one semester early from Craig High School despite being on her own since she was 13 and experiencing homelessness. I am confident she will use the scholarship to advance her own education and help others in the future,'' Forbeck said.


Landgren's dream is to become a registered nurse.


"It's great this business group acknowledged these kids who have overcome some incredible barriers. The girls love their families, but they've gone through some very difficult situations," Forbeck said.


Nunn said she still has close ties to her mother, but she moved out of her house last July because of family issues. At age 17, she moved in with her boyfriend's mother, supporting herself by working at a fast-food restaurant after school.


Today, Nunn rents a place with three roommates and continues to support herself.


"It's hard, but I did it and have a better life. Without all the family fighting, my grade point got better. It wasn't hard. This was school, and this is what I had to do to get out and make something of myself. So I always made the right choices,'' Nunn said.


Nunn said her drive to work hard and succeed comes naturally. She has almost always been on her own, and her parents divorced when she was 2.


"It sucked," she said.


But she admits it helped make her strong.


Nunn is grateful for the scholarship and realizes its importance.


"The only way to better myself is to get an education,'' she said.


Landgren, who has been couch surfing—living house-to-house with friends—for years, was behind in credits to graduate from high school, so she agreed to enroll in a special two-year program. She earned A's and B's while working as a carpenter for an apartment complex and volunteered at a local nursing home and charity.


"I realized I needed to change and couldn't goof around anymore. So, I applied myself my senior year because I knew I needed some help getting into college,'' she said.


Landgren said she'll use the scholarship money to help pay for books, classes and supplies.


Rich Miller, coordinator of the Westgate Corridor scholarship committee, said the group is filling the community's need to care about all of its residents.


"These scholarships are life-changing," he said. "They (scholarship recipients) could have been lost to our society and drawing on our society instead of benefiting our society. One is going into nursing and the other one teaching. These are things that will benefit our community for many years in the future."


Nunn and Landgren appreciate the help.


"It was a really exciting moment," Nunn said.


Landgren agreed: "I was thrilled and never thought I'd get a scholarship or go to college. It's crazy. I can't explain it."



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