2019 Award Recipient

As she crossed the stage to receive her high school diploma, Sheri beamed with pride to hear her friends and family clapping for her. They even surprised her with a bouquet of flowers! As a member of the 2019 Wind River High School graduating class at age 56, Sheri deserved to be proud. The long journey had been marked with starts and stops and more than one obstacle along the way.

Sheri raised her son working two jobs, never making more than minimum wage. In her twenties, she had tried going back to school, but she didn’t realize how tough that would be with an infant to care for. Later, with her son in high school, Sheri and her two sisters decided to get their diplomas together, but only one of her sisters made it through. When the restaurant where she had worked for 30 Sheri LGBWA Winneryears closed, Sheri moved in with a couple to provide in-home care. Before long she had to move again, this time to live with her own mother, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Three years later, her mother’s condition had progressed, and Sheri and her family began searching for a memory-care facility. Sheri moved in with her sister. At this point, Sheri was ready to live in her own place, but that required having a better job, which meant she needed that high school diploma more than ever.

Going to classes was hard work, but Sheri’s sister and a friend went together, so that helped. “My confidence sky-rocketed once I started completing courses,” Sheri remembers. One big challenge was that Sheri’s mother wasn’t adjusting well to her new place, so the search for a new memory-care facility began all over again. It was long and frustrating, but the newfound confidence that came from improving her own situation gave her the determination to improve things for her mother. After a year and a half, Sheri finally completed the course work she needed to graduate. She is grateful to her “amazing” teacher, Jami, who walked her through it all, showing her how to solve problems and figure out answers.

Sheri and her sisters all pitch in to help pay for their mother’s care. Sheri’s working in housekeeping at a hotel, but she’s put in applications for two jobs with the school system—one in the cafeteria, and one as a tutor with an after-school program for low-income kids. Without her high-school diploma, Sheri reasons, how could the school system trust that she knew enough to help kids with their homework? She wants employers to know that just because people are older doesn’t mean they can’t be trained. “We’ve learned a lot of new things over the years, new systems for doing things,” she says. “And even if the old way seems better, I’ll go about it the new way, because that’s how I’m being trained.  Employers should give older workers a chance—they really want to work.”

Her mom is happy in her new facility, and Sheri is looking forward to moving into her own place. Hawaii is on her bucket list. Meanwhile, she’s taking an Early Childhood Education class and an online typing class.  Growth is good!