Winner of the ABC Law Centers Cerebral Palsy Scholarship

Samantha Helgerson

Samantha Helgerson

Northeastern Illinois University

We are pleased to announce that Samantha Helgerson has won the January 2020 ABC Law Centers Cerebral Palsy Scholarship! Samantha is a student at Northeastern Illinois University, studying Interpersonal Communication. Here is her winning essay:

Dear Selection Committee,

My name is Samantha Helgerson. I am a 35-year-old woman with Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy (CP) which has impacted my life greatly in many different aspects, as you may imagine. My type of CP affects my whole body. I could never walk on my own. I always used an assistive device to walk until the age of twelve when my muscles just got too tight for me to walk. I have been using an electric wheelchair for the past 23 years. I have tried not to let these mobility challenges keep me from my goals in life.

When I was eight years old, my family decided to send me to the Chicago Rehab and Education Institute. This facility operated solely for individuals with disabilities. Its main mission was to help me learn how to better address my physical disability and to learn how to care for myself as I got older. While the school helped me accomplish many things, as far as teaching me how to become more mobile and assertive, it was a difficult time for me emotionally as many students went home in the evening whereas I was a student who boarded and went home only occasionally. It had both a positive and negative impact on me.

These experiences and CP had a major impact on my education. While I was coping with just learning how to handle the daily demands of living, I also had to attend a typical Chicago public school. Dealing with kids making fun of me and not always wanting to talk to people, I started to become very shy and introverted. These changes and problems that were occurring in my family made it difficult to concentrate on school. Adding to this was not knowing if you were going to have enough energy to get things done, yet I knew I could not quit because I had to complete my homework and go to therapy before the day was over. These are obstacles that I recall that formed my attitude of persistence and resilience.

I have managed to complete my Associates of Arts degree. It took me 14 years, since I took one class a semester with a break in the summers to earn that degree. My pace is slower because I have to depend on others to assist me daily in rising in the morning and retiring and coordinating transportation and those services are not always reliable. Additionally, I have to seek out assistance with writing papers and projects because I am not able to use speech-to-text technology successfully and I am unable to type on my own. I did manage to complete my degree without any financial assistance because I went to a junior college and the financial aid package that I received covered the entire bill.

In the Fall of 2019, I started at Northeastern Illinois University. Like the previous 14 years, I am enrolled in just one class, Interpersonal Communication. Before I started at NEIU, I met with the Financial Aid office and I was informed my financial aid package would be one amount, however, there was a miscommunication and the short version is my financial package will not cover my tuition. For this reason, I am in need of your help to continue my studies and earn a Bachelors in Communications.

I currently owe NEIU $670 because I registered too late to receive the MAP Grant and that balance is preventing me from registering for future classes. Another barrier is that the financial aid I will receive from NEIU in the future (MAP and PELL) will not cover the full amount of my tuition and fees and will leave me owing a $130 balance each semester. I cannot apply for loans because I do not qualify due to taking too few credits. The same is true for DORS. It leaves me with no other supportive funding. There is no one in my family able to provide me with financial support.

The $700 per month I receive from SSI goes to my rent (I receive a Section 8 voucher), groceries, utilities, and phone. I do not have any additional funds left over to fund the future $130 per semester balance and certainly not for the $670 I currently owe. As of right now, I will be taking a break from school so I can apply for scholarships and pay off my debt in order to continue with education. Attending school allows me the ability to learn and interact with people regularly which provides both purpose and enjoyment in my life. Ultimately, when I finish my education, I would like to become a T.V. news anchor behind the desk. I’ve had this career in mind since I was very young and it has always stuck with me. I’ve never changed it to anything else. I would like being able to tell people the truth about what is going on around them.

My extra-curricular activities are somewhat limited by transportation availability as well as activities of daily living. Though challenged by the availability of services to get to events, when I am on campus at NEIU, I take advantage of what the university has to offer. Additionally, I have signed up for tutoring through TRIO Student Support Service and I meet weekly with my tutor. I listen to live music in the cafeteria and attend activities and socialize at the Pedroso Center for Diversity and Intercultural Affairs. Outside of my class, tutoring, attending events when possible, and studying, I am a mom to a cat named Maya (although I’m not an old cat lady!). Lastly, I enjoy spending time with my friends and I am a movie connoisseur.

I have not received any awards or honors since I have been in college. I am, however, proud of the 3.20 GPA for which I have worked very hard. I am also proud of my steady persistence in earning my degrees, despite the many years it will take to achieve them. Hopefully, I have given you a picture of who I am, my determination to overcome obstacles put in my way, and my strong desire to complete my education. The support given through the ABC Law Centers Scholarship will make a significant impact on continuing to progress toward my educational goals.