True North Recovery Services has awarded the $1,000 Kristina Flores Overcoming All Odds Scholarship to Maranda Marie Leonard, a senior at Susitna Valley Jr/Sr High School in Talkeetna, Alaska.
Leonard’s perseverance through a litany of childhood hardships earned her the annual award, which will help offset the costs of a college education.
Mandy, as she’s called by those who know her best, used her application essay to chronicle her difficult and chaotic childhood. Her parents split up when she was just five years old and her mother started dating an abusive alcoholic. Her older brother took the brunt of his abuse for her sake. When her mother became pregnant again, she and her brother went to live with their father and his new family. She hoped the abuse might finally end, but all that changed were the abusers—this time her stepmother and stepsister.
Over the next several years, Mandy descended into a cycle of depression and self-loathing that culminated in a suicide attempt at age 14. The narrative that played over and over in her mind was that she was worthless and undeserving of love, and she believed it. Her grades and personal relationships suffered.
But by the time she began her senior year, Mandy’s narrative began to change. Friends and teachers who knew all she’d faced over the years reminded her that she wasn’t worthless and that they had faith in her. She became more self-possessed and confident. Her grades improved dramatically. She left her toxic household and has stayed with friends while she finished school. An interest in music led to a friendship with Shauna Saatzer, her choir instructor at the tiny rural high school two hours north of Anchorage.
In recommending Mandy for the award, Saatzer offered an elegant metaphor.
“In society and education, we speak of trauma, resiliency, grit, and many other ‘buzzwords’ for concepts of survival. We understand more and more of the neurology that occurs in kids who live through very harsh circumstances, and how their brain elasticity can help them move forward.
“I also personally believe this trauma shapes them. Like a prized, rare sword, they endure the bending and hammering to become flexible, incredibly strong, and beautiful items prized around the planet. Mandy is on her way and reminds me of ancient Damascus steel, except in reality she is one of our most modern and exotic alloys.”
Having become essentially independent, Mandy took a job cleaning April Moore’s family hardware store in Talkeetna (pop. 876). She, too, saw an inspiring and remarkable change in Mandy.
“The Mandy I see is not the Mandy she was,” said Moore in her recommendation letter. “This young lady worked hard to overcome a difficult childhood and succeed in school. She has impressed me with her desire and determination to change her life. I believe the support this scholarship would provide will propel her into a bright future.”
Mandy plans to attend Mat-Su College in nearby Palmer next fall with a major in human services. Her goal is to become a social worker and help other kids in abusive situations.
“I want to be the social worker who understands what abused children go through and give them good advice on how they can learn from the negative experiences in their life,” she said. “I want to show the kids there is a better way of living life and that opportunities always exist!”
You can read Miranda’s story here: Maranda’s story
About the Kristina Flores Overcoming All Odds Scholarship
The Kristina Flores Overcoming All Odds Scholarship was created by True North Recovery Services both to honor the life and achievements of the late Kristina Flores, who tragically passed on at the age of 23. Applicants who have overcome great personal hardships to complete high school are encouraged to apply. The scholarship will go to the person who best represents themselves through their application with an emphasis on their essay.