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Helping female students help themselves

Jocksana Corona of Talent came from a heavily addicted-alcoholic family in Los Angeles, was homeless, found school to be her “escape” and struggled to get her high school diploma. She succeeded. Now working on her degrees in Human Services and Family Support Services at Rogue Community College, she got a big boost Friday — a $3,000 scholarship.

The gift from the American Association of University Women of Ashland was part of their annual $25,000 award to nine local women who have put themselves on the path to success.

Corona, now married with two small children, told her moving story to a couple hundred AAUW members Friday evening at Southern Oregon University, where many of the scholarship recipients are working on degrees.

Corona told how, while living in a homeless shelter, she would go to school from six in the morning to six in the evening, taking many advanced placement classes, but having to drop out of high school to help support the family. With help through University of Oregon, she got her GED.

“I was knocked down many times, but I didn’t stay down,” said Corona, who is on her way to becoming what she calls a “bilingual activist” who can help others out of the same kind of situations.

“Now, I want to get in work where I can be that person giving compassion and empathy and show people that it’s possible to do what I did … Without hope you cannot live. I want to be that person to say there is hope.”

Herbalist Nabha Goldfeder got a $1,500 scholarship to help her become a nurse, a journey she started at age 40. The Applegate resident, now at RCC, wants to reach vulnerable populations who are affected by environmental problems, she said, such as pesticide toxicity or mining or logging chemicals.

Working toward her bachelor’s degree in nutrition, Janalee Swain was awarded $1,500, to help her get through college without working fulltime.

“My goal is to help Americans take back control of their food system,” Swain notes, “as the current level of exposure to toxins in food is contributing to many chronic health conditions. Much can be done on an individual basis, empowering through better lifestyle choices.”

Scholarship recipients attending SOU are Lauren Aldana, pursuing political science, philosophy and Spanish; Katie Boehnien, working on her master’s in environmental education and teaching; Sydney Lund, business marketing and sustainability leadership; Daisy Proksch, biochemistry and biology and Peyton Moore, master’s in clinical mental health counseling.

With 186 members, the 80-year old AAUW Ashland chapter is the largest one in Oregon, with members doing fundraising via garden tours, grants and donations. The main speaker at this year’s Celebration of Scholars was Rebecca Bender, a leader and author in the campaign against sex trafficking and slavery.

As a student at University of Oregon, Bender was taken to Las Vegas by a boyfriend she’d dated for six months, “a charming, funny man,” and dropped off into a life of slavery, reinforced with beatings, many broken facial bones, branding of her body and threats to her family when she tried to escape, she told the gathering.

Bender, author of the book “Coercion,” said there are hundreds of such victims in the Pacific Northwest and they are forced into drugs, stripping, pornography, illicit massage — and often mask feelings with cocaine. Abductors “make you feel responsible for your coercion,” she said, and suicide is often attempted.

This went on for six years until federal agents broke up the ring and freed her.

Bender went on to a life helping “empower” (a word she uses instead of “rescue”) women — and notes that much education of women and society is necessary to understand the crime. She founded Rebecca Bender Ministries to provide advocacy and support for recovery, including shelter placement, court and legal processes and work with families. She also helps train police and first responders to identify survivors and help them into recovery and “empowering each other as human beings.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.