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The Kramp scholars were honored during a special program held June 12.

Contact: Ann Hatch
Kathye Hammontree

For immediate release — June 13, 2013

(DALLAS) — Driving, studying, talking, sleeping — the ability to do these simple tasks often is taken for granted by many people. Three college students from Carrollton, Sachse and Richardson don’t. Elizabeth Shirey has learned to live with and control epilepsy and depression; she is learning to manage bipolar disorder as well. Ruth Clason is a cancer survivor. And Ana Immerso faced a different set of challenges. She came to the United States from Argentina with her parents, only to see both her mother and father deported — leaving her to finish high school and survive with little financial help and no emotional support. Throughout their young lives, these three young women have battled disease or family issues or a series of crises — and they have won, in spite of their struggles.

At the tender age of two years, Shirey was diagnosed with epilepsy that originated in the speech and motor cortex of her brain. She has battled all of her life with poor speech as well as language processing and motor skills problems. Her elementary- and middle-school years included special education classes, and she had difficulty making friends with other children who, Shirey said, thought she was “retarded” because she couldn’t speak properly. And she was in danger each night when she fell asleep because she would experience complex partial seizures when her body transitioned from wake to sleep — a time when she would turn face-down in her bed and stop breathing. Homeschooling, muscle weakness, short-term muscle paralysis in her face and mouth, uncontrolled seizures and eventually depression were part of Shirey’s life for many years.

Clason knew more about pain, cancer and chemotherapy at age seven than most adults do in middle age. But cancer has been a gift, she believes, because it instilled in her the gift of compassion and a dream to help others who face disease and similar challenges. The lymphoma she fought disappeared but unfortunately has returned; however, her desire to help sick children remains strong. Even after her parents split up, Clason learned from that experience and continued to thrive and grow at school and in her church. In addition to her classes, she held a part-time job and was enrolled in the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) college readiness program. AVID gave her the tools and skills she needed to pass her Advanced Placement courses and prepare for college.

Immerso, a native of Argentina, came to the U.S. on a trip when she was young, believing that her family was going to Disney World. Instead, her parents brought her to Irving, where they both became door-to-door sales people, selling cookware. They worked hard, sometimes literally became lost as they looked for customers’ homes and even worked part time at night cleaning a movie theater to try to make ends meet. The family struggled for 12 years, and Ana had to endure being bullied at school by students who didn’t like her Argentinian accent (it was different from the accent of Mexican children in her classes). But Immerso didn’t give up on her dream to go to college.

Shirey, a resident of Sachse and May graduate of Sachse High School, will take her dreams of becoming a special education teacher and eventually an occupational therapist with her this fall to Eastfield College. Clason, a June graduate of Newman Smith High School and a Carrollton resident, will start on her journey to a career in the medical profession at Brookhaven College in September. Immerso, a graduate of Richardson High School, already has started her studies at Brookhaven. These students faced monumental obstacles early in their lives, and they rose to conquer those challenges through hard work and perseverance so that they could find a way to build better lives and brighter futures.

Without the help of the Dallas County Community College District and the Erin Tierney Kramp Encouragement Foundation, Shirey, Clason and Immerso would miss the chance to follow their college and career dreams.

These three DCCCD students were honored for their tenacity, courage and perseverance when they received the 2013 Erin Tierney Kramp Encouragement Scholarship Award during a special program on Wednesday, June 12, at a local Dallas restaurant. The event was hosted by the Erin Tierney Kramp Encouragement Foundation’s board of directors and the DCCCD Foundation.

The scholarships will help Shirey, Clason and Immerso reach for their dreams with financial support provided by the Erin Tierney Kramp Encouragement Scholarship Award, which covers full tuition and books for up to four semesters. Shirey is majoring in special education; Clason is majoring in pre-medicine; and Immerso plans to pursue a degree in mathematics.

The courage and perseverance shown by these recipients in the face of adversity are traits exhibited by the person for whom the award is named. Erin Tierney Kramp, who fought breast cancer from 1994 to 1998, created a videotaped legacy on “life lessons” for her young daughter that would convey Erin’s views and advice to Peyton as the young girl grew up, following her mother’s death. Erin touched many lives and inspired countless strangers when she co-authored “Living With the End in Mind” (with her husband and a family friend) and through appearances on programs like “20/20” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Winfrey featured the Kramp story/segment as one of her “most memorable guests” during a May 2011 farewell show as the program reached its historic end. Erin’s legacy lives on through the Kramp Foundation, the DCCCD scholarship program and the lives of all recipients.

“The Erin Tierney Kramp program awards scholarships to students based on their courage and perseverance in the face of adversity,” said Michael Brown, president of the Erin Tierney Kramp Foundation. “We see these qualities in Ana, Elizabeth and Ruth, who bravely survived their own challenges and who plan to help others by going on to college and preparing for careers that will serve others. Their stories exemplify what our past recipients have demonstrated repeatedly through Erin’s legacy. When individuals face adversity, the struggles that they endure will either make them stronger or defeat them. Winning that battle requires courage and perseverance. Elizabeth Shirey, Ana Immerso and Ruth Clason have proven they possess both traits, and they truly deserve this honor.”

Shirey, who grew up with epilepsy, suffered from periods of Todd’s paralysis as a result of prolonged seizures, as well as a condition called migralepsy, in which migraine headaches trigger seizures and epilepsy triggers migraines. Eventually, her mother was forced to quit her job so that she could care for and home school her daughter — literally teaching her class work and also how to speak again after Elizabeth experienced muscle weakness in her face and mouth because of the many seizures she had suffered. In high school, the future Eastfield College student became severely depressed and even considered suicide. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is receiving treatment.

Shirey’s long road is less bumpy today. She finally was able to get her driver’s license because she no longer has seizures that result in loss of consciousness — only sensory seizures that don’t affect her daily life. She has earned a 3.59 grade point average; attends teacher tutorials; has participated as part of the Sachse High School Mustangs Marching Band for four years, as well as color guard and winter guard; and holds leadership positions on the Youth Council at her church. She was accepted as part of the Future Teacher Internship program her senior year, and she has served as a helper and teacher in the Preschool Programs for Children With Disabilities at Armstrong Elementary School.

Elizabeth says, “By the grace of God, the support of my family, the love and prayers of my church and proper medication, I am blessed to be living life with a bright future as a special education teacher and occupational therapist.”

Clason counts the gift of life, going to camp and hugging stuffed animals as several of her many blessings. She also was changed, taught and touched by patients with cancer — which she believes has given her compassion and a desire to help others. She came to the U.S. at the age of three, and her family struggled. She was diagnosed with lymphoma at age seven and underwent many rounds of chemotherapy as she battled pain and the cancer that tried to claim her. Now she wants to work with children who face the same medical battles that she did.

A job, school and community service have become an integral part of Clason’s life; those experiences will follow her to Brookhaven College. She describes her life fighting cancer this way: “Life is like a coal mine. It is dangerous and dark, and it can all come crumbling down in an instant, but the reward that waits ahead is amazing. Jewels and precious rocks are all found in dangerous places, and that is life for me.”

Immerso watched her parents work hard at several jobs to support the family and establish a new life in the U.S. After her father was deported, her mother worked two, sometimes three jobs so that they could get a small apartment in Richardson where Ana could be close to school. And then her mother was deported, too. Immerso faced a tough decision: return to Argentina so that she could be with her parents, or remain in Texas to finish school and live in America.

Ana decided to stay in Richardson and now lives with a family in that area. She wants to be on her own as soon as possible, and her parents continue to send a small amount of money to help her. Earning a 3.77 GPA, Ana is involved in the Student Government Association at Brookhaven and the Student Leadership Institute. “My parents and I struggled for 12 years but never gave up pursuing a better life,” says Ana. “My parents always taught me to be strong, that I could do anything and that I should never give up.”

Four additional students will receive one-time Erin Tierney Kramp Scholarship grants that they can use toward school expenses. They are: Adaeze Paul of Flower Mound, who plans to attend Brookhaven College and major in pharmacy; Brianna Hogg of Dallas, who will enroll at El Centro College and major in marketing; Rachal Hernandez of Euless, who will attend North Lake College and major in nursing; and Tania Glavey, a resident of Irving who also will enroll at North Lake College and major in business.

For more information, contact Kathye Hammontree at (214) 378-1536.

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