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North Florida Announces 2013 Scholarship Recipients

April 29, 2013

The North Florida Chapter of the National MS Society has announced this year’s recipients of its annual Scholarship Program: Alexandra Hunt from Pensacola, Jacob Withers from Fernandina Beach, and Peter Mitchell from Destin.

The program helps students affected by multiple sclerosis pursue a college or technical school education. It is open to high school seniors who live with MS or have a parent who does; or anybody living with MS who has not yet been to a post-secondary school.

In addition to the emotional toll, MS can have a substantial financial impact on a family. The direct and indirect costs of MS, including lost wages — even for those with health insurance — are estimated at more than $70,000 annually per household. This makes funding a college education that much harder.

Alexandra (“Ali Rae”) Hunt is graduating from Pensacola High School with a 5.0 GPA.   Alie Rae is very active in her community through Student Government, National Honor Society, Science Honor Society, her youth choir and more.  She hopes to attend Georgetown and study International Business which would best encompass her three passions: politics, travel and service.  Ali Rae’s mother has lived with MS since Ali Rae was in the fourth grade.  “Every day is a battle, but more than that- every day is a learning experience,” Ali Rae says.  “In my household, MS is known as the invisible disease.  What people don’t realize is that she is in pain every day, from leg aches, headaches, temporary blindness, to muscle spasms and a myriad of other debilitating symptoms.  Living with a person with this invisible disease, I’ve learned to think before I speak, to choose my battles and most importantly to consider other points of view before I continue to press my own.”

Jacob (“Jake”) Withers is graduating from Fernandina Beach High School and has kept busy with multiple academic, sports and service activities, all while maintaining a 3.8 GPA.  He plans on attending the University of Georgia to study mathematics and science and his goal to become an anesthesiologist.  Throughout high school Jake has kept active with after school jobs, Interact, Young Republicans, National Honors Society, the Engineering Team and a variety of sports.  Jake’s mother was diagnosed with MS just as he began high school.  Her first symptoms were severe and made life very difficult.  “She struggled to do everyday things as simple as using the computer, driving, and even cutting her own food,” Jake shares.  “My mom’s physical limitations caused by MS have given me the opportunity to experience the joy of being able to help others as well as the platform to get to know my mom better.”  Jake remembers a light blue t-shirt in his mom’s closet which he says sums up her outlook on life- it’s an image of a drinking glass with the words ‘Half Full’.   “Although MS has scarred my mom’s body, it has not damaged her outlook on life.  By looking at the glass as ‘half full’, she has proven that MS cannot defeat us.”

Peter Mitchell will graduate from Niceville High School with a 4.54 GPA.  He plans on attending Georgia Institute of Technology and will study engineering.  Peter keeps busy with an after school job, Key Club, National Honor Society, Walk MS and other community service projects.  Peter’s mother was an engineer with the Kennedy Space Center when she was diagnosed with MS.  “Compassion and perseverance are lessons I’ve learned from my mother, who has multiple sclerosis,” Peter says.  “Symptoms of the disease are sometimes hidden to observers.  Just because my mother looks well, doesn't mean she that she is.  But she perseveres through it and maintains a positive attitude.”  Peter is inspired by his mother’s engineering background and living with MS. “Maybe I’ll be able to develop a type of technology to improve the quality of life for those living with MS,” Peter says.  “Anything is possible.”

The Society established its scholarship program ten years ago, and it immediately became a source of great encouragement for families concerned that MS might put college out of reach. This year, 423 new awards and 257 renewals totaling $1,156,225 were presented nationwide. Applications are evaluated on financial need, academic record, leadership and volunteer activities, a statement of educational and career goals, and letters of recommendation. Applicants are also asked to provide a personal statement describing the impact MS has had on their life. Scholarships range from $1,000 to $3,000 and typically cover one year, although a limited number of awards may exceed this amount.

“For the families of our winners and the hundreds of thousands diagnosed with MS across the country, there are very few known sources of scholarship assistance specially targeted for these families,” said Chapter President, Corrina Steiger. “MS shouldn’t stand in the way of an education, and we are hopeful this program will give families some relief.”

Information about scholarships for 2014-15 will be available on the National MS Society Web site on October 1st. For more information, call 1-800-344-4867 or visit www.nationalMSsociety.org/scholarship

About the North Florida Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society

The North Florida Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society was founded in 1973 and provides comprehensive programs and advocacy to assist and empower the more than 18,000 individuals residing in 34 counties of north Florida who are affected by MS annually. The North Florida Chapter is also a driving force of research for the prevention, treatment and cure of MS and contributes funds to support 350 National MS Society research projects worldwide.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

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