Mission Accomplished: Marine City woman completes nursing degree with boost from scholarship

Nikki Leonard shows off her newly acquired nursing degree.Dec. 13 marked a major achievement for Nikki Leonard, 24, of Marine City.

She graduated from the Licensed Practical Nurse program at St. Clair County Community College.

From her earliest years, Nikki says she knew someday she would be a nurse. So, she started taking pre-requisite courses for nursing and then decided to take a break from school before entering the program at SC4. During her break, she decided to test the waters of the medical field and become a certified nurse aide. Following the month-long class, she got a job as a CNA at Medilodge of St. Clair. It was then that life threw her a curveball. Her mother got very sick.

Nikki Leonard receives her degree."My first day as an aide, my mom got sick and ended up in the hospital," she says. Doctors sent her to Detroit and determined she had five blockages in her heart and would need open heart surgery. In July 2014, Nikki's mother had triple bypass surgery.

Because her mother wouldn't be able to work, Nikki put off school to work full-time and pay the family's bills.

In 2016, Nikki says, life had finally calmed down enough that she could think about returning to school. So, she finished up her prerequisite courses, and in 2017 applied to the nursing program.

Nikki found out about the Complete Your Degree scholarship program while seeking financial aid to pay for school. She initially planned to take out student loans, because she did not qualify for other financial assistance. The financial aid office gave her an application for assistance from the St. Clair County Community Foundation. Her scholarship was offered in December 2017, when she entered the nursing program

Nikki says she is grateful for the financial and emotional support offered by the CYD team.

“I would not have been able to finish this year without the support from the CYD program,” she says.Nikki Leonard stops for a photo with her mom after graduation ceremonies Dec. 13.

CYD is a scholarship program that goes that does more than pay for just tuition and book support for SC4 students pursuing an associate degree or certification.

It also helps remove barriers to degree completion by providing financial support for many life needs, like food, clothing, medical care, transportation, daycare, and housing.

Nikki says everyone in the CYD program was supportive and helped her attain her goal of becoming a nurse.

Keeping her eye on the prize, Nikki plans to take a little time off school before returning to become a registered nurse. For now, she'll continue her career at MediLodge of St. Clair, where she'll step into the role of LPN.

Nikki hopes others will follow their dreams, as well. She says having a good support system in place is essential.

Nikki Leonard (center) with Kevin Totty (left) and Audrey Sochor (right) following graduation."It may not seem like a huge deal, but support definitely helps ease the stress."

Persistence is also important.

"Keep pushing when things get difficult, it is worth it in the end," she says.

Nikki is the second graduate of the CYD program, part of her funding came from the Alexander & Celestine Lamere Fund, which was established in 2009 to provide support to graduates of Marine City High School attending SC4.

For more information on the CYD or other programs, visit the St. Clair County Community Foundation.

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