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Amidst the rubble and re-building following the deadly tornado attacks, several hundred Alabama residents gathered at Southside Baptist Church in Birmingham to celebrate as The Smith Scholarship Foundation awarded 10 full scholarships, seven book scholarships and two trustee scholarships. Two Limestone County students were among recipients of the funds, which are awarded to students who overcome adversity.
Recent Elkmont High School graduate Marissa L. Baker received a full scholarship valued at about $15,000 per year to the University of Alabama. Marissa, who had been raised by foster parents since the death of the grandmother who was her guardian, left Elkmont a few days after graduation to take summer classes at UA, said Marissa’s foster mother Beverly Henley, a librarian at Elkmont school. Beverly and Jesse “Sonny” Henley, whose only son Lee was killed in a car wreck in 2005, have been Marissa’s parents for about 18 months and Beverly said Marissa will always have a home with them.
“We are so very proud of Marissa,” Beverly said. “She provides a wonderful example of how to overcome adversity through setting goals, working hard and perservering. We know Marissa will continue to justify everyone’s faith in her. We are extremely grateful to God and the Smith Foundation for this extraordinary opportunity.”
Marissa began a project called Baker’s Books for Babies, collecting picture and board books and distributing them to children at Athens-Limestone Hospital and the Athens-Limestone County Family Resource Center. A believer in the importance of early childhood literacy, Marissa worked with younger Elkmont students in the school’s library.
Felicia Lambert, Athens-Limestone Hospital spokeswoman, said Marissa sets an example for students.
“She collected over 127 books from friends, family and a school philanthropic club called TRAIL,” Lambert said. “Marissa donated the books to ALH and the Family Resource Center in Athens to families of newborns and families with babies.”
Marissa also volunteers for Care Assurance System for the Aging and Homebound and works at Taco Bell to help pay for college.
Earlier this year, she received a $5,000-per-year First Scholars scholarship from the University of Alabama, which is awarded to the first person in a family to attend college.
Dakota L. Woods of West Limestone High School was a Smith Scholarship semi-finalist and Book Award winner. She will receive about $4,000 in scholarships over the course of four years.
“I want to praise the students that have made the most of this opportunity,” said the scholarship’s founder, Mignon C. Smith. “They and our country, our state and our communities will be better and stronger because of their hard work.”
Smith, a journalist and heiress, endowed the scholarship foundation to assist students who have overcome hardships, including financial and physical adversities, to excel as leaders and volunteers in their communities. The scholarships go to Alabama high school seniors to attend qualified public Alabama colleges of their choice, subject to Foundation guidelines.
The Foundation, established in 2005, is the largest private scholarship endowment in the State of Alabama. More than 80 full scholarships have been awarded with more than 50 current participants. Since its inception, the Smith Scholarship Foundation has provided more than $2.3 million in educational assistance to Alabama students.
“The selection of the seventh class of scholars for The Smith Scholarship Foundation was extremely difficult with over 1,200 applications,” said scholarship administrator, Ahrian Tyler Dudley. “The Board of Trustees had the unenviable task of selecting ten recipients and seven semi-finalist book awards from so many outstanding applications.”
Others receiving full scholarships include: Samantha A. Baldwin and Jessica S. DeVoe, both of Piedmont High School in Calhoun County Calhoun County; Morgan R. Callahan, Pell City High School, St. Clair County; Jodie L. Cotney, Chilton County High School, Chilton County; Jessica “Haley” Davenport, Fairhope High School, Baldwin County; Tyler B. Fulmer, Central High School, Lauderdale County; Angela Hernandez, Munford High School, Talladega County; Randall “Dakota” Hewitt, Ranburne High School, Cleburne County; and Caleb “Blake” Tyree, Berry High School, Fayette County.
Other Smith Scholarship semi-finalists and Book Award winners are: Jada N. Curtis, Ashville High School, St. Clair County; Misty D. Ingram, Lineville High School, Clay County; Ciara E. Johnson, LeFlore High School, Mobile County; Amber D. Rainha, Booker T. Washington Magnet High School, Montgomery County; Autumn D. Rainha, Loveless Academic Magnet High School, Montgomery County; and Jane E. Strader, Holly Pond High School, Cullman County
Winners of the Board of Trustee Outstanding Commitment Awards are Donald R. Morgan, Alabama A&M University, and Chandler S. Stisher, University of Alabama at Birmingham.