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Annual Dinner Raises Critical Funds for Scholarships - Your Support of JRF says, “YES YOU CAN!”

Annual Dinner Raises Critical Funds for Scholarships - Your Support of JRF says, “YES YOU CAN!”

JRF | Oct 11 2016 |  · · · 

Annual Dinner raises critical funds for scholarships - Your Support of JRF says, “Yes You Can!”

Daily at JRF, we have the privilege of connecting with inspiring women from across the US who refuse to give up and remain dedicated to pursuing higher education. Sometimes on the calls, there are laughs and sometimes there are tears of pain and joy. All of the time, there is financial, academic, and emotional support— none of which could be made available without you— our donors and volunteers.

Through our social media channels, we show you as much as we can about the journeys of the women served and essentially what the foundation values.

But, as seen at our recent Annual Dinner, there is nothing like meeting the women behind the phone calls, blogs, and social media posts in-person to hear them share their own stories and to connect them with generous people like you who have decided that their education matters.

During the dinner, Scholars from Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Florida and Portland, Oregon were honored for their academic dedication, but more importantly for their willingness to share their journeys with us, inspiring us to be more vigilant, optimistic, and resourceful in all that we do.

One JRF Scholar, Khadijah, joined us in pursuit of her Associate’s Degree after enduring years of abuse and homelessness. She had heard about the scholarship opportunity via word-of-mouth and said she really only applied on a whim because someone said, “Yes you can!” Khadijah shared to some of the attendees at her table that it wasn’t until she could quiet that little voice of doubt that always said, “no”, that she could really hear and listen to the voice that said, “Yes you can!”

It took a village of support and the sisterhood of the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund to convince her that she and her family truly deserved a higher quality of life through higher education. She just completed her first year of law school and because so many decided to pour into her future, she spends time each week mobilizing women within her own community.

Your attendance at the Annual Dinner, your financial support, and your invested time all breathe life into that little voice (one we all need to hear at some point) that says to women, “Yes you can.”

You have probably heard that when you educate a woman, you educate a village, and if one ever had any doubt that this isn’t in fact true, they haven’t met you or the scholars and families that you support.

Thanks to digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter, our Scholars are building bonds and empowering each other, across state lines and amidst differing time zones, extending the value of their shared Jeannette Rankin Foundation experience.

To know where we are heading, we must remember where we have come from and that’s the beauty of the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund. We celebrate Jeannette Rankin’s role as a social justice advocate and realize how her legacy lives on through JRF.

We celebrate our Scholars and our incredibly supportive communities because with each scholarship provided, another woman is provided with resources to empower herself, her family, and her community.

The Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund’s 40th Anniversary Annual Dinner celebrated these collective investments and accomplishments of women’s education with an eye to providing ever more support for the women who need us.  

As a result of the dinner, $86,680 was raised. Know that your support as donors and volunteers gives so much more than scholarships.

Thank you again to all of our donors, our volunteers, our sponsors, and our board for making this event possible! Special thank you to our proud sponsor, Delta Air Lines! We hope to see your faces again soon at our SMART Party on November 10th at Ponce City Market, General Assembly.

Missed the event? Check out the pictures via our Flickr page.

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“When they go low, we go high.” Taking the High Road to Higher Education

JRF | Jul 27 2016 |  · · · 

When speaking at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke as a woman, as a mother, as the First Lady, and as a wife. In her speech, the First Lady spoke of the importance of character, convictions, decency, and grace. Ultimately, these qualities of selflessness are crucial, yet often overlooked, in today’s leaders.

Jeannette Rankin Women's Scholarship Fund's Executive Director, Karen Sterk, asserts that,

“As supporters of women’s education and empowerment, we are excited to be witnessing this historic moment in our country’s history. Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected to Congress 100 years ago this November, running on the Republican ticket.  One hundred years later, the Democrat nominee for President is a woman. While we are a non-partisan organization, we applaud women getting involved in public service and we see the parallels between the work they do and the work of our scholars."

Each day at the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund (JRF), we are inspired by the selflessness of our scholars. Many have children and are struggling to make ends meet from paycheck to paycheck. Still, they rise each morning more dedicated than before to earn an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree. JRF Scholars don’t stop because they understand their achievements are for the bettering of themselves, their family, their community, and this nation.

A significant number of our scholars are also single parents, so when they decide to make a temporary sacrifice to complete their degree, they take on a deliberate risk to better their children’s futures. Like leaders in today’s political movement, JRF Scholars have decided to redefine limited historic definitions of what success looks like in America.

When we talk to our single-parent scholars, they talk about their journey through the lens of their children. They proudly describe how they sit and do homework together at the table. Some women were once homeless, yet they always made sure their children were in school each day for a meal and for an education.  Some women find energy in helping other women in their communities obtain their GEDs so that they too can go to college. Others laugh as they reflect on their sleepless nights or how many times they had to start over. They keep going.

Often, our JRF Scholars enter our sisterhood of scholarship and support after hitting some sort of breaking point. During Obama’s DNC speech this week, she shared that her motto to her daughters in the face of adversity is, “when they go low, we go high.” In response to low points, JRF Scholars have taken the high road to higher education. By taking the high road, they decide to believe in themselves despite any public or private criticisms of who they should be or what they should be limited to achieve.

For the children of our scholars, their mothers are their champions and, in turn, the children are also their mothers’ champions. When we ask women how they seek joy in the midst of being a non-traditional student and parent, they usually say it’s their children who keep them laughing and remembering why they are doing it. In turn, the women are refueled with energy to complete their Associate’s or their Bachelor’s degree for access to better resources and to be bigger champions for their children’s success.

Together JRF Scholars and their children have forged ways to achieve personal, professional, and academic goals. When children participate in this intentional work, they are being groomed to break cycles of poverty through education. One of our dedicated volunteers is barely 10 years old. She gives of her time because she already has a growing appreciation of women’s education.

Every day we all have the opportunity to shape the future of America’s children. For 40 years JRF has been empowering women through education, providing them scholarships to help them complete their degrees to not just make a living but to make a life. 

Click here to empower champions through the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund.

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For 30 years, I ran from myself. Now, I’m graduating from college!

JRF | Jul 20 2016 |  · · · 

"Hitting me with a truck.

Chaining me to a stove.

Pouring boiling hot water on me.

Being sold and re-sold.”

Allie has overcome a lot of trauma. She now has a 4.0 GPA and is graduating with her Associate’s Degree in English in December 2016. She plans to transfer into a B.A. program at the University of Houston. In the midst of her traumatic childhood experiences, she still graduated from high school at the age of 17. She even went straight to college afterward, but she went through over 30 years of destruction before she was ready to return.

As she is stepping into a new space, we asked her to dig deeper into a darker side of herself that she has done a lot of work to heal from. Personal healing can sometimes comes in the form of sharing our stories.

Today, in addition to being a student, Allie works with different community organizations in Houston to bridge gaps between healthcare and criminal justice professionals, two entities that interact most often with abused women.

Click play on the YouTube video below to listen to Allie’s story, recorded by 3rdMilClassroom. Keep reading to see what she shared with the us as a Jeannette Rankin Scholar.

At the age of 3, Allie was raped by her grandfather for the first time.

Allie endured this traumatic abuse until she was 11 years old when he passed away.

Soon after, she decided she had had enough and decided to run away. To survive, she ran into the arms of “boyfriends” who were 20-30 years old and offered her food, shelter, clothing, and drugs in exchange for sexual favors. 

Allie soon started getting into human trafficking. For a long time, she didn’t even acknowledge that what she was doing was called human trafficking and prostitution.

Allie goes back and forth through unstable spaces for years, desperately looking for “a high or experience to cope with issues [she] didn’t want to deal with.”

In her early teens, she started experiencing flashbacks from her past and that’s when her family realized that something was extremely wrong. Drugs helped temporarily suppress the anxiety of the flashbacks.

“I was scared of my own voice.”

You could say she has a bit of a Breaking Bad story because she started making meth by stealing from her school’s chemistry lab. Her successful drug operation led her to develop a heroin addiction. “Addiction turned the fear [of my own experiences] into hate.  At that point, everything I was cooking, I was using.”

Allie shared that what most people don’t understand is drugs, sexual abuse, prostitution, human trafficking are all related forms of power and self-destruction.

When she moved to South Central L.A., her body became a part of a local gang’s initiation process. The initiates were forced to kidnap Allie, rob her, and take turns having their fun with her. Her trafficker coincidentally always showed up to save her after these events.

Even when her trafficker stabbed her, this still wasn’t her wake up call because she had fallen in love with him and he made her feel less broken. Amidst the beatings and mistreatment, there was a twisted form of affection and acknowledgment that she feigned for from him. 

After going to jail for an eighth felony, Allie decided she was ready to do the work to heal from her past and to save herself. 

“For the first time, I was forced to surrender to my reality.”

In 2014, Allie enrolled in a vocational school in Houston after being denied admission to countless programs because of her paper trail of mistakes and felonies.

For so long, she was really just trying to make it, especially with her former trafficker of 8.5 years. If she ever came home empty-handed, he always greeted her with a beating.

“In order to survive emotionally, I created someone else who was able to deal with those stressors."

When do you find space for education in the midst of fighting for daily life?

An oppressor’s strongest biggest weapon is to deny one access to education, to deny one the opportunity of being empowered and educated. An educated woman is dangerous because she is able to rewrite and re-shape her narrative.  An education equips women with more resources to be self-sufficient and to better serve her community.

"At first, I didn’t want to dream big because it required sacrifices to be made.”

Allie has been clean for three years and has used her resourceful nature to seek financial aid for her education. We are beyond proud to have her as one of our Jeannette Rankin Scholars.

She facilitates focus groups with imprisoned women who’ve endured child exploitation by using storytelling and art as coping mechanisms.

When she isn’t studying or serving in the community, she loves to spend time with her grandmother and belove dog.

Pictured on right is Allie's grandmother and her beloved dog. Pictured on left is an original piece created by Allie.

“My grandmother has seen me with black eyes and with my pimps and she still loves me unconditionally. She’s my rock.”

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Here’s What Happens When You Don’t Give Up on YOU

JRF | Jul 03 2016 |  · · · 

As he lay naked basking in his adulterous act, he did say one last thing…

"I'm done with you." 

She told him, "You might be. But I'm not done with me yet."


“Kristine, what was it that made you decide to go back to school?”

“Well… seven years ago, I came home and found my husband of 23 years in bed with another woman, his high school sweetheart.”

Thanks to Facebook, they had reconnected and apparently rekindled old flames. Despite being caught in the act, his face was absent of any guilt. He wiped their bank accounts clean and purchased one-way plane tickets for Kristine and their two children to return to her parents’ home in New York. 

He doesn’t get a name in this story though because this isn’t his story.

This is the story of an artist and a survivor.

“I restarted my life with $900, two months of back rent, and two children.”

With the help of the HOPE Family Services, Kristine's divorce was finalized within three months. Kristine will complete her B.A. in Secondary Education in December 2016 and she will be the first person in her family to earn a Bachelors Degree.

Here's a snapshot on Kristine: 

  • Mother, Teacher, Daughter, Sister, Lover, Painter

  • Second-generation Norwegian

  • Currently works part-time at Publix and a local art gallery

  • Her living room doubles as her studio

  • Wants to purchase a car and travel the world with her son and daughter

As a teacher, Kristine wants to expose children to the intersection of art, English, and math. What if schools taught children about the Golden Ratio through the portrait of Mona Lisa?

She plans to turn her future classroom into an art gallery, walls filled with custom paintings. Many American children never have the opportunity to visit a museum, so Kristine wants to bring a museum to them. Pictured to the right is one of Kristine's interpretations of Tiger Lily.

In her free time, Kristine paints portraits of important women in her life based on their posted selfies on social media. According to Kristine, when we select selfies as our profile pictures, we choose ones that highlight some attribute of ourselves that we love, much below the physical surface. Painting their portraits gives her a chance to escape reality and add color to their inner and outer beauty.

Lessons Learned from Kristine: 

  • If you can’t afford something, volunteer your time and talents. In order to pay for her daughter’s high school marching band fees, Kristine altered the band uniforms for over 160 students.  ​

  • Be weary of the single narrative.  Her children once complained of having to read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God because it seemed like the protagonist, Janie, was just a woman who ran from man to man. She corrected them, acclaiming that Janie is actually the heroine. Janie broke all of the stereotypes, did what she really wanted to do, and she spread her love along the way.

  • And when you’re really at your worst, go to the beach. Period. It’s that simple.


Don’t ever give any credit to someone else’s opinion of you.

Kristine's Norwegian father, Jan, pronounced John, came to the US at the age of 11. From day one, American teachers and students constantly teased him about his seemingly feminine name. One day, he’d had enough and requested an official change of spelling,“please change my name and make me American.”

Kristine, named after her father’s hometown, made it a point to return to her maiden name after her divorce. Looking back, the tumultuous marriage led her to reclaim her name, her identity, and her education. Her father Jan couldn’t be more proud.  


Kristine, you’re doing a heck of a job adding color to your own life’s portrait. You were right.You aren’t done with you yet, even when the “doing” of some days may seem difficult or uncertain.

Kristine’s decision to never be done has even influenced her 19-year old daughter, Emily, to also keep going. She recently earned her Associate Degree and is moving on to the University of Central Florida to pursue a Bachelors and Masters in Computer Criminology to eventually work for the FBI. Pictured on top are Kristine and her two children. Below are a few loved ones from her supportive village.

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The Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Foundation provide scholarships and support for low-income women 35 and older across the U.S. to build better lives through college completion. If you support the courage and persistence of women like Kristine, please re-share this story.

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Why the United State of Women Matters

JRF | Jun 22 2016 |  · · · 

Our Executive Director, Karen Sterk, recently joined forces with Michele Ozumba of the Women’s College Coalition and JRF Board Member, Linda Brigham of Coca-Cola and Letty Ashworth of Delta Air Lines on a girls’ trip to the United State of Women White House Summit. From the moment they arrived at 6:15 a.m., they stood amidst long lines of thousands of diverse women, waiting for the greatness to begin. Looking back on it, the “greatness” they were yearning for had already started while in line.

For the first time ever, the United State of Women White House Summit brought together 5,000 women focused on economic empowerment, health and wellness, education, violence, entrepreneurship and innovation, and leadership and civic engagement. As Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi stated, “when women succeed, America succeeds.” We’d like to add that when women of diverse backgrounds, colors, age, and pursuits are supported to succeed, then and only then will America be ready to reach its true pinnacle of success.

Director Sterk expresses:

"I was especially impressed with Vice-President Joe Biden’s open 

remarks on America’s rape culture. It isn’t everyday that a man of such power leads a public discussion on the mistreatment of women’s bodies or to pass the Violence Against Women Act back in the 1990s. Vice-President Biden expressed that violence against women is really an abuse of power. Rape is a repulsive obsession to assert and abuse power.

Unfortunately, many of our Jeannette Rankin Women’s Foundation (JRF) Scholars have been robbed of their body’s power at some point. Rape and abuse of any kind can leave victims in a trapped state of fear. Pursuing higher education is one way to reclaim one’s power and overcome the fear of failure."

How do we connect what we do with workforce development?

Women aren’t encouraged to be plumbers, truckers, or mechanics. Yet during one of the sessions hosted by the Department of Education, panelists shared technical education tips and lucrative opportunities from pipefitting to supply chain.

If you are a woman over the age of 35, returning to traditional higher education presents its own set of challenges. Two-year programs at technical institutions can ease these concerns, provide women equitable access to jobs more quickly, and lessen the financial burden of a quality education.

We need to make sure we are exposing women to these opportunities and shattering stereotypes of what success looks like. It comes in different colors, different degrees, different roles, and from different places.

Great summit. Now, what?

The Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund and other women’s organizations are now challenged to deepen our impact and expand our reach, far beyond solely providing scholarships or jobs. We need to collaborate and maintain that same overwhelming sense of urgency and sisterhood from the summit to reclaim our power in this country as women. We encourage you to stay tuned to United State of Women events in your area.

The #stateofwomen proved that this holistic effort to uplift all women is imperative to breaking cycles of poverty, oppression, sexism, and racism. And yes, men we are talking to you too.

The Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund has successfully provided scholarships to over 800 women in 40 years and in the words of First Lady Michelle Obama, “We are not done yet! We have to continue the work.”

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