FORSYTH COUNTY — The Rotary Club of Forsyth County honored five high school seniors Thursday who have overcome great challenges to graduate this spring.
“It’s hard enough to make it through high school if everything goes just the way it should in your life, so we’re very proud to have all of you,” said Rotarian Sam Siemon. “We hope all of you will grow up to be leaders.”
This year’s Challenge Scholarship Award recipients — Alison Adams of West Forsyth, Armando De Anda of North Forsyth, Daniel Deleon of South Forsyth, Jane Parker of Forsyth Central and Adolfo Reyna of Lambert — have struggled with physical and medical challenges, economic struggles, a language barrier and homelessness.
Forsyth County School Superintendent Buster Evans was moved by the touching stories. A Rotarian, Evans said he’s proud his club is the one “in the community that takes on this project.”
“These kids have overcome the greatest obstacles. We take for granted some of the things we have in life,” he said. “It’s heartwarming, it’s reinforcing and it demonstrates … what happens when caring adults involve their lives in the lives of children.”
Armando De Anda, North Forsyth
When Armando De Anda came to North two years ago, he “spoke no English and understood very little,” said guidance counselor Kathy Wigley.
Wigley said she explained to him he would not graduate on time, but he “decided that he was.”
“Armando has made amazing sacrifices … he gave up watching Spanish television, he gave up listening to Spanish music, he quit reading Spanish books and started reading everything English, forcing himself to learn English,” she said. “He’s passed all of his tests and he will not only graduate [on time], but he will be an honor graduate.”
De Anda said his plan is to major in medicine when he goes to the University of North Georgia this fall.
Jane Parker, Forsyth Central
Jane Parker has been through a “remarkable journey to get where she is,” said guidance counselor Deidre Miller.
When she came to Central, Parker was a homeless teenager with no family. Now, she will attend Kennesaw State University to major in nursing.
Parker credited her success to Sabrina Graves, who she calls mom.
“Mom, without you, I would not be standing here today a happy and healthy young woman who is going to college,” she said.
“You adopted me when I was 16 with just the sole purpose of trying to care for me and raise somebody who needed help and needed a mom.”
Parker also thanked the many people who have helped her through difficult times, saying she was “raised by a village.”
“There are a lot of needy teenagers out there who, all they want to do is go to college. And helping even five of us will make a big difference,” she told Rotarians.
Adolfo Reyna, Lambert
In addition to attending school, Adolfo Reyna worked in landscaping. He spent many days toiling long hours in the hot sun to ensure he could provide for his family and mother.
Now, he plans to major in engineering at the University of Georgia “so I can help my family and those around me.”
Reyna speaks three languages and has taken nine Advanced Placement courses, all while working.
Counselor Jamie DiCarro said Reyna has lived in Forsyth since he was very young, and she’s been amazed at how he’s overcome “some significant socio-economic challenges.”
“He is the hardest working young man that I have ever experienced in my five years of being a counselor,” she said. “He sets his mind to something and he achieves it. Period.”
Daniel Deleon, South Forsyth
His family was in tears as guidance counselor Eddie Fernandez talked about Daniel Deleon’s accomplishments.
“He exemplifies courage and there’s no denying that he’s faced adversity in his life,” Fernandez said. “And do you want to know how many times he’s come to me … to complain about anything? Zero. Never.
“We have a lot to learn from a young man like Daniel … his courage is beyond reason.”
Deleon’s life changed five years ago when he suffered burns in a fire. While the traumatic incident altered his appearance, it was the nursing staff who cared for him in a Cincinnati, Ohio, hospital that left the greatest impression.
“They were great role models for me and I want to be a great role model to those I will care for in the future,” he said.
They inspired him to pursue a career in nursing. Deleon plans to earn his LPN from Lanier Technical College and then transfer to Kennesaw State.
Alison Adams, West Forsyth
Alison Adams had her first surgery at age 2, when a life-threatening tumor was removed from her brain. Two years later, she got her first pair of glasses after doctors discovered a congenital cataract in her left eye.
In seventh grade, she spent three weeks undergoing therapy for reflex neurovascular dystrophy, a condition that causes severe pain.
Guidance counselor Jennifer Ciaccio said Adams’ wasn’t her student in high school, but she’s known her since middle school.
“I’ve just watched her grow into such a beautiful young lady,” she said. “I just want to say congratulations to you.”
Adams said she’s always been an avid writer. Her first published piece was a memoir she wrote at 13. But focusing hasn’t always been easy.
“My health continues to be a challenge as I continue to deal with chronic headaches and migraines, monitoring of another small brain tumor and seizures,” she said.
“In spite of these challenges, I’ve always enjoyed school and have always excelled academically.”