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All parents want only the best for their children. One way to do that following a divorce is to earn higher education that will lead to better job opportunities and a more comfortable lifestyle.

The Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Benton County has helped 8,000 local residents do that by awarding $6 million in the more than 30 years since it was founded in 1984. Friends and business associates met over lunch at the Embassy Suites of Northwest Arkansas on May 13 to make sure that thousands more would continue to have the same opportunities.

The corporate luncheon featured guest speakers Greg Foran, president and CEO of Wal-Mart U.S., and scholarship beneficiary alumna Felicia McCranie and was emceed by Lauren Conley of KNWA.

McCranie led the remarks by giving the audience a taste of what she experienced in the years before and after receiving the scholarship. She began with a look at her childhood, which was shaped by an early injury, a severe dog bite that required multiple reconstructive surgeries, encouraging the development of a quick wit and a tendency to always take the path less traveled. As a teenager stuck in the middle of her parents’ divorce, that manifested by her spending all her time elsewhere and meeting her first husband.

“I married at 16 and was pregnant at 17,” McCranie says. “People around me weren’t sharing the outcome [of those decisions] with me.

“I was divorced at 18 and could have marinated in my mistakes.”

Instead, she got a job as a cashier at Walmart and worked “early mornings, late nights and in her dreams.” Once she landed the scholarship, McCranie enrolled at Northwest Arkansas Community College where, alongside earning her degrees in criminal justice and organizational management, she learned how to begin her savings, make a budget and received a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan for her first home.

Continually promoted in a 16-year career at Walmart, McCranie says it wouldn’t have been possible to take care of her family without that support during the years she earned her education.

“People I didn’t know invested in me,” she says. “I was learning while raising a boy, which is hard enough.”

McCranie made out a check to the scholarship fund and encouraged the visitors to do the same, insisting that “there are still students who need you to be a part of their village.”

Foran followed McCranie’s speech by saying that people like her were his inspiration and motivation to keep working and contributing to such outstanding organizations.

“Let’s make it easier for them,” he says. “That’s top of mind for us, that’s what this lunch is about, to make life easier.”

Foran, too, knows well the struggle of single parenthood. After 20 years of marriage, he found himself inviting his children over for dinner one night and not knowing where to find various products in the grocery store. Coming back to the office on Monday, he was ready with questions and ideas.

“It made me a better retailer,” he says. “I looked at things more closely.”

Foran pointed out that when Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Benton County began in the mid-1980s, 9 percent of households in the county were headed by single parents and that it’s only grown in the decades since.

“Being a single parent is the hardest job in the world,” he says. “But life with adversity taken the right way can make someone successful. It can turn into a strength.”

Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Benton County Corporate Luncheon

What: an opportunity to thank corporations for their support When: May 13 Where: Embassy suites in Rogers Next: annual student Benefit, aug. 13 at Embassy suites in Rogers Information: (479) 254-8550

April Robertson can be reached by email at arobertson@nwadg.com.

Print Headline: Corporations lift single parents

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