ARLINGTON, Va., Oct. 4, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Mark Ortiz, a lifelong resident of Albuquerque, N.M., was a devoted husband and father of two. He worked as a HVAC technician and handyman, providing his family with a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. His family's quality of life, however, changed almost instantly after Mark suffered a stroke in April of 2008, most likely related to his undiagnosed and untreated diabetes. Six months later, Mark died at age 45. Because he couldn't work during his illness and didn't own any life insurance, his family found itself in a dire financial situation. His wife, Tiffany, had her own health issues at the time and couldn't work. Mark's oldest child, Chezerea, 20, took matters into her own hands. She put off her college dreams and became her family's sole breadwinner, working long hours at several jobs to cover her family's basic living needs. For a time, the family lived in a motel, but eventually was able to move to a modest apartment.
Today, nearly three years later, the Ortiz family's income is still below the poverty line, but they are doing a little better. With some financial support from her grandparents, Chezerea was able to go back to school and recently completed a certification program to become a dental assistant. Further easing the financial burden of her education, Chezerea earned a $10,000 scholarship from the LIFE Lessons Scholarship Program, which provides tuition assistance to deserving young people who have lost a parent at a young age. Chezerea says that if her father had made preparations for his death, things would be different now. "Life insurance is really one of the few comforts that we can leave our families," said Chezerea.
Chezerea's story is illustrative of the struggle that so many families in America face when a provider in the household dies with little or no life insurance. The nonprofit LIFE Foundation created the LIFE Lessons Scholarship Program both to help young people pay for their college educations and to raise awareness of the need for all parents to include life insurance in their financial plans. This year, LIFE awarded a total of $115,000 in scholarships to 60 students, both all-time highs. The recent growth in LIFE's scholarship program has been made possible by generous financial support from the NAILBA Charitable Foundation, the MDRT Foundation and ValMark Securities.
"Parents don't want to imagine not being able to watch their children grow up and realize their life dreams, but part of being a responsible parent involves taking the time to acknowledge that none of us is promised a tomorrow and then making financial plans to account for that irrefutable fact," said Marvin H. Feldman, CLU, ChFC, president and CEO of the LIFE Foundation. "Stories like Chezerea's help put into perspective how financially devastating it can be when a family loses a loved one who provided for them but didn't own any life insurance. We're proud to be able to help determined young people like Chezerea pursue their college dreams through our LIFE Lessons Scholarship Program."
To be considered for a scholarship, students were asked to submit either a video or written essay describing the emotional and financial struggles they faced after losing a parent, with specific mention of how the lack of adequate life insurance coverage affected their college-funding plans. The stories of the top scholarship recipients can be viewed on the LIFE website.
All but one of the scholarships were selected by a panel of judges consisting of members of the LIFE Board and staff, as well as executives from several leading insurance companies. The recipient of the remaining scholarship, a $5,000 award in the video category, was chosen by the public through an online vote that took place from June 2, 2011 to July 5, 2011. The winner of the online vote in the LIFE Lessons Scholarship video category was Mahogany Fleming of Cincinnati. Like Chezerea, Mahogany understands the financial difficulties that can befall a family when a parent dies with little or no life insurance in place.
"My parents had big dreams for me. They wanted me to live my life filled with love and opportunities," said Mahogany in her video entry that can be found on the LIFE website. "The lack of money has always been a factor in my life. Sometimes I wonder what was harder – not having a father or watching my mother struggle to make ends meet. I know my life would have been much easier if my dad had life insurance."
Despite the financial hardships her family has faced, Mahogany has persevered and is determined to obtain a college degree in musical theater and business.
Full List of LIFE Lessons Scholarship Recipients
The 60 students who received LIFE Lessons scholarships ranging from $10,000 to $1,000 include:
$10,000 Scholarship Recipients: Chezerea Ortiz (Albuquerque, N.M., Pima Medical Institute); Emily Diaz (New York City, University of San Diego)
$5,000 Scholarship Recipients: Diamond Davis (New Brunswick, N.J., Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey); Kenyatta Kaigler (Hamtramck, Mich., Wayne State University); Kirtus Lorett (Stevens Point, Wis., University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point); Mahogany Fleming (Cincinnati, The University of Toledo); Micah Morton (Tucson, Ariz., University of Arizona); Oscar Genesin (Brooklyn, N.Y., Baruch College); Yasmine Moss (Thurmont, Md., North Carolina Central University)
$2,500 Scholarship Recipients: Ariana Wascher (Bowling Green, Ohio, Bowling Green State University); Joshua Gleim (University Park, Penn., Pennsylvania State University); Ryan Faries (Tarpon Springs, Fla., University of Florida); Sarah Keefer (New Cumberland, Penn., Pennsylvania State University - Harrisburg); Skyler Baird (Midvale, Utah, The University of Utah)
$1,000 Scholarship Recipients: Allison Radel (Moscow, Idaho, Brigham Young University - Idaho); Allison Stuby (Grand Rapids, Mich., Michigan State University); Alona Oshon (Fort Washington, Md., Howard University); Aneka Bruce (Brooklyn, N.Y., Pennsylvania State University); Bobby Moreland (Westerville, Ohio, Otterbein University); Brittany Mather (Philadelphia, Penn., University of Pennsylvania); Candace Warn (Bloomingdale, Ill., Illinois State University); Cayla Conforti (Chicago, Saint Norbert College); Chelsea Hall (Marion, Ind., Indiana University South Bend); Cody Manthes (Sherman, Texas, Grayson County Community College); Conner Dembroski (Indianapolis, University of Southern Indiana); Danielle Warren (San Jose, Calif., Gallaudet University); Danielle Visone (Lake Worth, Fla., Florida Gulf Coast University); Daphnie Mingo (Miami, Florida Gulf Coast University); Deborah Omoyege (Starkville, Miss., Mississippi State University); Ellen Kellner (Allendale, Mich., Grand Valley State University); Frankie Mueller (Northborough, Mass., Saint Anselm College); Garrett Musson (Elbert, Colo., Western State College of Colorado); Haley Strader (Greensburg, Ky., University of the Cumberlands); Jamie Price (Luling, La., Nicholls State University); Jasmine Segall (Berkeley, Calif., University of California, Berkeley); Jenna Magness (Whiteford, Md., Harford Community College); Kalli Krueger (Nashotah, Wis., Carroll University); Katharine Kmiecik (New York, Parsons The New School for Design); Kenneth Ramsey (McAlester, Okla., University of Central Oklahoma); Kiera Sarill (Arlington, Mass., Brandeis University); Kimberly Thornton (Wildomar, Calif., California Baptist University); Lacey Ludlam (Haynesville, La., University of Arkansas Community College at Hope); Lauren Koneski (State College, Penn., Pennsylvania State University); Lily Orcutt (Los Angeles, Occidental College); Luke Mahler (Kill Devil Hills, N.C., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill); Marie Mahaney (Platteville, Wis., University of Wisconsin - Platteville); Marissa Parker (Hemet, Calif., California State University, Fullerton); Markayle Acord (Bonners Ferry, Idaho, Corban University); Mathew Miller (Newburyport, Mass., University of New England); Matthew Bonczek (State College, Penn., Pennsylvania State University); Melissa Free (Highland Springs, Va., Old Dominion University); Michael Bennett (Campo, Calif., Cuyamaca College); Michael Lawrence (Anamosa, Iowa, Loras College); Omar Khraishah (State College, Penn., Pennsylvania State University); Robert Peavy (Lizella, Ga., The University of Georgia); Ryan Field (Tallahassee, Fla., The Florida State University); Samuel Calvin (Altoona, Penn., Pennsylvania State University – Altoona); Sara Alcid (Bryn Mawr, Penn., Bryn Mawr College); Tasha Gibson (Lubbock, Texas, Lubbock Christian University); William Erik Omholt-Montague (Missoula, Mont., The University of Montana)
About the LIFE Lessons Scholarship Program
The LIFE Lessons Scholarship Program is open to young people between ages 17 and 24, who have experienced the death of a parent or legal guardian, and are currently enrolled in, or have been accepted to a college, university or trade school. Applications are solicited in the spring and scholarship recipients are notified in the summer. LIFE accepts individual, tax-deductible donations for the LIFE Lessons Scholarship Fund online at www.lifehappens.org/donate. For more information, visit www.lifehappens.org/lifelessons.
The Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (LIFE) was founded in 1994 in response to the public's growing need for information and education on life, health, disability and long-term care insurance. LIFE also seeks to remind people of the important role insurance professionals perform in helping families, businesses and individuals find the insurance products that best fit their needs. To learn more about these topics, please visit www.lifehappens.org.
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SOURCE The Life and Health Foundation for Education (LIFE)