Five Northern Marianas College students were presented this year’s edition of the “Live Your Dream” awards by the Soroptimist International NMI last Saturday at the Azucena Hall of the Crowne Plaza Resort Saipan. The five recipients are Jennifer Benavente, Angellyn Nicholas, Mollie Atinisom, Kelly Fujihira Sablan, and Maritoni Duarte. This makes it the first time for SINMI to present the award to five persons; last year, they presented the grant award to three persons.
A total of $7,000 was given to the awardees, with an additional $1,500 given by the Rotary Club of Saipan. Benavente was awarded $3,000, while Nicholas, Atinisom, Sablan, and Duarte were awarded $1,000 each. Benavente, Nicholas, and Atinisom were given an additional $500 each from the Rotary. There were a total of 13 applicants this year.
The “Live Your Dream” program aims to improve the lives of women in the CNMI by providing financial assistance for their education, skills, support for their families, and or business ventures. The awardees have to be women who are in college, while also being the head of their household.
“It’s a cash award because they don’t need to necessarily spend it on school. It goes to a woman who is getting her undergraduate degree, [whether it’s for an] associate’s, a bachelor’s, or even trade’s degree. …It’s not a scholarship. … We don’t ask for an explanation of how you spent the money. … It’s just to encourage women to still be able to stay in school,” said SINMI president Maureen Sebangiol about the award.
Benavente, a full-time employee, mother, small business owner, and NMC student, said that her children are what drives her. “I can honestly say I don’t know if I will feel this way, this inspiration, this motivation, without my kids…”
With the award, she said, “It’s a cash award and I laughed because [Maureen Sebangiol] said you can use it to buy tires, and that the first thing I thought was, ‘Well, my baby needs some new tires.’ [But] it’s mostly going to go to savings. Christmas is coming up and my two kids deserve a good Christmas every year.”
When asked about winning the award, Benavente said, “Talking about your struggles and your challenges—it’s not something I like to talk about because it’s easier to have pride. It’s easier to say…that I don’t need help. I swallow that pride and I tell myself that my struggles and my challenges do not define me—they shape me to be a better person. So, I’m grateful for the award, very grateful.”
Recent Marianas High School graduate, 18-year-old Angellyn Nicholas, who is now a freshman at NMC pursuing a nursing degree, said, “Right now, it’s pretty tough and I’m so grateful for this wonderful opportunity from the Soroptimist award, because it showed me how hardship isn’t everything—pain is temporary. I’m just very, very grateful to be a part of it…”
“I just wanted to share that pain is temporary and blessings will come,” said Nicholas.
Atinisom, a ChaCha Ocean View Middle School librarian aide, who is majoring in education, rehabilitation, and human services at NMC, said, “When I got that call, I was really shocked because I was actually struggling with how I was going to pay for school this year. I wasn’t able to qualify for a lot of the financial aids that were out there. So, it came as a blessing for me. …It felt like a miracle. …I’m just [going] straight to the finance officer, ‘Here you go, here’s my check.’ The goal next year is to find another financial aid to pay for my last year. I feel blessed, really fortunate to be able to get it.”
Sablan, 31-year-old U.S. Army reservist who is also a full-time student at NMC, said that winning the award was “surreal.”
“I honestly didn’t think I was able to win. I saw the email in my NMC email and I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know they had this and let me try,’ and I did it. And when I got the call, I kind of freaked out because I didn’t think that I was [going to] get it. …I was really happy, I’m still thinking that it’s not real, but here we are today at the ceremony. … It just seemed like it all happened so fast. It was just like over a week because I turned it in right before the due date,” said Sablan.
Duarte, a business administration student at NMC and a Community Guidance Center outreach worker, said that “winning this award means a lot because… it helps me continue what my dream is. …One day, I want to get into my master’s and hopefully get into health administration to open a homeless shelter here in the community. I’ve seen a lot of homeless individuals. As I’ve started working with the Community Guidance Center, I’ve seen a lot of gaps, and I want to bridge those gaps so that we can provide as many services as we can to those individuals who are really in need. And I feel like that’s one thing that we need here, to build stronger communities to support.”
The keynote speaker of the night was Crystal Cabrera Pangelinan, a current Family Court Division manager at the NMI Judiciary, who gave an inspirational speech about her life and pursuing her dreams, followed by the first “Live Your Dream” recipient in 2014, Le’ah Aguon Murphy, who is an educator and administrator at ChaCha Ocean View Middle School.
The ceremony was attended by SINMI members and friends and family of the winners, and was followed by a banquet and a silent auction.