Beat The Odds Recipients 2017

Beat The Odds Scholarship Award Recipients Recipient Video Testimonials:

On January 12, 2017 community and business leaders attended the 17th Annual Beat the Odds scholarship fundraising event at the Rochester International Event Center. Attendees were treated to an exquisite dinner that started with a social hour and the opportunity to bid on silent auction items.

Five amazing students from the Rochester and surrounding areas were recognized with a $2,500 scholarship to attend Rochester Community and Technical College in the fall. These high school seniors and first-year RCTC students faced many challenges and struggled in difficult situations yet achieved personal and academic success. In addition to the Beat the Odds scholarship winners, the Foundation awarded additional scholarships to other deserving students who were runners-up.  Many thanks to the nominators, event sponsors, and attendees on an amazing evening!

Jawaher Binhamoodah – 2017 Beat the Odds Recipient

Jawaher was determined to pursue an education—but it has not been an easy path for her. Jawaher was very proud when she graduated from high school, but her father was not supportive of the fact that she had even pursued an education, nor did he want her to go on further. He demanded that she enter into an arranged marriage to an older man she had never met. Because her Middle Eastern culture dictates that daughters follow the wishes of their fathers, Jawaher married this individual and felt like she had lost her freedom forever.

Jawaher came to the United States in 2010 using a “wife visa,” as her husband was a United States citizen. Although the United States was advertised as a “land of opportunity,” it didn’t seem like one to Jawaher. She felt trapped in her marriage, and unable to pursue her dreams of her own volition. Then she found out that she could divorce her husband here without anyone’s permission. She retained a lawyer who took her case pro bono and helped her secure a divorce which became final in 2013. During this time, Jawaher also struggled with her family’s response to her divorce. Again, due to cultural differences, they were not supportive of her decision and warned her of consequences if she followed through with her plan to end her marriage—but she did not give up. The year her divorce was finalized she received her green card. She felt her feelings of freedom returning. Jawaher has worked for more than three years to save money for college, secure a driver’s license, buy a car, and find a place to call home. She is currently a certified nursing assistant and a trained medical assistant at Madonna Towers. She plans on becoming a nurse. She is now married to a man she chose, and is surrounded by him, and supportive coworkers and friends who are there for her as she pursues her dreams to further her education and enjoy a bright future. JAWAHER WAS NOMINATED BY LEAH DIGRE, CO-WORKER AT MADONNA TOWERS.

“My flight towards freedom was not easy but with dedication and perseverance, I got it back.” – Jawaher Binhamoodan

Mikayla Brainard – 2017 Beat the Odds Recipient

Mikayla lost her hearing in her left ear when she was a young child and started using a hearing aid when she was in Kindergarten. She began to work with her deaf and hard of hearing teacher, Mrs. Vail, when she was in the eighth grade, and still works with her today. Mrs. Vail nominated Mikayla for the Beat the Odds scholarship.

For three years until she turned 10, Mikayla struggled with abuse by a family member which led to depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. This led to Mikayla attempting to end her life a few times. She then spent time in a residential treatment facility, followed by two short-term stays in psychiatric hospitals.

Mikayla and her family moved to Stewartville, and as she was learning to adjust to a new school and environment in eighth grade, she became ill and was diagnosed with several chronic conditions that resulted in her experiencing constant dizziness, fatigue, and migraine headaches. During this time, Mikayla’s youngest sister was born with a variety of serious health concerns which required her parents’ attention. Mikayla did her best to take care of her middle sister at this time to help her parents focus on their newest daughter.

Mikayla, who is a senior at Stewartville High School, is considering pursuing a career in special education, or becoming an American Sign Language interpreter, or a sound engineer. She is coaching cheerleading and tumbling at the all-star cheerleading team’s gym, and has joined the art club at school so she can stay involved with her peers. Mikayla describes herself as someone who “has learned to handle bad situations, and is doing multiple things to help her succeed now and in her future,” and says she is “beyond excited to see where life takes me.” MIKAYLA WAS NOMINATED BY ANN VAIL, STEWARTVILLE SCHOOL DISTRICT TEACHER.

“Because of the things I’ve been through, I’m now stronger and wiser, and I’m doing much better than I ever thought I would.” – Mikayla Brainard

Jessica Nelson – 2017 Beat the Odds Recipient

Volleyball became Jessica’s main focus in seventh grade, and she played in different leagues and clubs year-round, hoping to become a Division 1 volleyball player. She struggled with friendships throughout grade school and middle school, and in high school she felt unseen and unimportant to the world. But volleyball was a way to be noticed and be seen. Day by day she improved in sports, and as her level of play increased, so did the recognition. She became “addicted” to it, feeling noticed and important.

On July 8, 2014, that reality was changed forever. She was in a serious car accident and came close to dying. Authorities believe the front wheel bearing of her car gave out, forcing it into a ditch where it rolled five to seven times. She had her seat belt on but her legs ended up out of the window and crushed by her car. A farmer found her within minutes of the accident. She was taken to the hospital and then flown to Sioux Falls, S.D., where she was hospitalized for 18 days. Jessica had a compound fracture where her tibia bone came out of her right leg. Bacteria led to an infection that ate away three and a half inches of her bone. She was referred to the Mayo Clinic where they treated the infection and attached a Taylor Spatial Frame to help grow back the missing bone and stretch it to the right length. She wore the frame for over a year and was told she would never play sports again. After a lot of pain and hard work, in February 2016, her leg had healed more than expected and her doctor cleared her to play sports again. She is now a starting right side hitter on the Rochester Community and Technical College volleyball team.

Jessica is a freshman at RCTC pursuing a Liberal Arts degree, and wants to become a nurse. She is employed as a nanny and as a child care worker at Autumn Ridge Church, is an active member in Navigators College Ministry, and attends Christ Community Church. JESSICA WAS NOMINATED BY AMBER ZITZOW, RCTC HEAD VOLLEYBALL COACH.

“The past two years have given me a new purpose and shown me how much I have to be grateful for.” – Jessica Nelson

Caleb Ricks – 2017 Beat the Odds Recipient

Caleb is currently a full-time student at RCTC with a 4.0 GPA, and works at two part-time jobs. But he traveled a difficult path to get to where he is today. In 2015, Caleb relapsed and began drinking around Thanksgiving. Around Christmas, his father died suddenly, and in his own words, he “went downhill very, very quickly.” Caleb quit his job, started binge drinking, and moved from motel to motel. When he returned home, his brother, Marshall, took him to the psychiatric ward at a local hospital, and he was released three days later. He immediately began drinking again.

Caleb traveled a painful path of suicidal thoughts and depression and tried to purchase a gun at a local gun store but could not do so because he had no permit. Marshall took him back to the psychiatric ward and then Caleb entered an inpatient mental health treatment program in January 2016. He began attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, got a positive sponsor, and went through the 12 step program. Caleb completed the treatment program in 45 days, and then with help from an Olmsted county caseworker, entered Cronin Home, a sober living facility.

Today, Caleb is building a life in recovery from addiction and mental illness on a daily basis. He volunteers for hospice, serves as a sponsor for others who are in recovery, and attends AA meetings on a regular basis. Caleb has been supported by numerous caring, insightful friends and family members, and is especially grateful for his older brother, Marshall, who has “saved his life more times than he can count.” CALEB WAS NOMINATED BY KARIN WRIGHT, RCTC COMMUNICATION STUDIES INSTRUCTOR.

“I have begun the long process of building a life in recovery from addiction and mental illness, and must strive on a daily basis to do so.” – Caleb Ricks

Isaac Williams – 2017 Beat the Odds Recipient

Isaac has struggled with family issues since he was a young boy. He doesn’t have a lot of pleasant memories of the last 10 years growing up in a household which included family discord, serious illness, and fear. Isaac ran away from home once and also spent some time living with his grandmother. Throughout all of the chaos, Isaac took his responsibility as a “big brother” seriously and took care of his two siblings.

Isaac has worked very hard to earn good grades as a student at Mayo High School. He is enrolled in the Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program. Through PSEO, high school students receive both high school and college/university credit for college or university courses that are completed. He is also active on a robotics team, which has allowed him to develop skills in coding and software, which has become his passion. He is the captain of the robotics team and looks forward to pursuing a career designing software for medical use. And, he is active in his library’s Gay Straight Alliance.

He is also a lifeguard at the Rochester YMCA and says it’s a fun job. His one rescue to date has been a centipede that was at the bottom of the pool!

Isaac is grateful to all of his teachers, especially Karin Wright, an RCTC instructor and his nominator. According to Isaac, “her nomination for this scholarship has given me a brighter outlook.” Isaac did a speech in her class and shared his personal struggles publicly which has given him a desire to help others to feel a sense of hope about their own lives. Isaac believes that going through the process to become a Beat the Odds scholarship recipient has helped to give him even more encouragement to continue to “beat his own odds.” ISAAC WAS NOMINATED BY KARIN WRIGHT, RCTC COMMUNICATION STUDIES INSTRUCTOR

“I want to be able to help more people feel like they have real hope.” – Isaac Williams

Contributions to Beat the Odds are made through monetary donations or by purchasing table sponsorships or tickets to the Beat the Odds event held each January. Individual tickets are priced at $100 and table sponsorship levels range from $500-$5,000.  We also welcome in-kind donations that can be raffled or auctioned at the event. If you are interested in supporting Beat the Odds, please contact the RCTC Foundation at (507) 281-7771 or via e-mail at