Alexis Smith's mother, a disabled addict, would be cruel to her daughter at night and forget about it in the morning.

Smith's father wasn't in the picture.

Today, the Saranac Lake High School senior has neither parent and is on her own financially, which is why a recent scholarship award is vital to her attending college.

"This makes it so I can pay back the loans."

FOUR AWARDED HERE

The Dell Scholars Program awarded a total of $6,000,000 in scholarships to 300 students nationwide — out of 5,300 applications — to include only four in New York.

Those gifts of $20,000 each went to Plattsburgh State Upward Bound graduating seniors, along with a Dell computer and resources and mentoring.

The program is an initiative of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, established in 1999 to support children's causes, particularly those living in poverty.

GAINED CONFIDENCE

"It's one of the most lengthy and intense scholarship applications I've seen," said Beekmantown High School counselor Jennifer Duffy. "It can eliminate the need for loans and provide money for food and books, which allows the student to focus on academics."

One of her students, Skyler Resendez, was accepted at the University of Rochester and awarded an annual $32,000 scholarship from the school.

"The Dell scholarship is eliminating a lot of anxiety for Skyler because he won't have to take out as many loans," Duffy said.

A shakeup in his family when Resendez was 5 years old resulted in some emotional turmoil and financial hardship, though he said it gave him strength.

"Suddenly, the little things didn't bother me so much."

As a freshman, Resendez applied for Upward Bound, a college-prep program for low-income, first-generation students. The unique experience helped him make new friends and injected him with confidence.

"I think the greatest quality any person can have is being yourself and not judging people ahead of time."

BOLSTERED BY FAITH

Lora LaRochelle doesn't care much for snap judgments based on a lack of knowledge.

The Franklin Academy senior's father isn't in the home, and she spent time in foster care because her mother was unstable. She's back with her mother now, and they receive public assistance.

Her experience helped her grow and taught her to turn each situation into a positive. LaRochelle's Christian faith has helped keep her on the right track.

"If it wasn't for the church, I don't know where I'd be."

Through Upward Bound, LaRochelle completed a chiropractic internship, which inspired her to apply for nursing school at North Country Community College.

"You go to the hospital for help, and people are supposed to be nice. I think that fits my personality."

LaRochelle is grateful for the Dell Scholars Program.

"I am working, but it's hard to save money because I have to pay garbage money for the family, and that is half my paycheck.

"This feels like a blessing. I have never seen that kind of money before."

LIFE WAS A STRUGGLE

Ngozi Eweheonu applied for the scholarship figuring she had nothing to lose.

Born in South Carolina, the Plattsburgh High School senior moved to the area with her mother and two brothers in 2001 to escape an abusive situation.

"It wasn't my father," she said.

Upward Bound prepared her for life after college and offered travel opportunities, she said.

"It taught me about time management and helped me meet a lot of friends."

Eweheonu gained the confidence to apply to St. Lawrence University, where she'll study environmental science.

"Because of this scholarship, I am loan free as I head to college."

KEPT ON TRACK

Applying for a Dell scholarship and Upward Bound were two of the best choices Alexis Smith has made, though the journey has been difficult.

Her mother suffers from a traumatic brain injury after being hit by a truck at 17 and was addicted to narcotics.

They lived off disability payments.

"Toward the end of the month, it would be hard," Smith said. "We had to struggle for change just to get dinner."

Her mother left for Tennessee more than two years ago, and the 17-year-old lives at her grandfather's house.

"There are a lot of adults in my life, including Upward Bound, that really kept me on the right path."

She leaves for St. Rose in Albany in the fall to study music or the music industry.

"Every time I go through something hard, I listen to music, and it calms me down."

E-mail Stephen Bartlett at: sbartlett@pressrepublican.com

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