Some people have an unstoppable drive to help others. By investing in such people through scholarships, St. David’s Foundation is changing who provides healthcare and how they do it.
Nineteen-year old Arhian grew up in rural Cuba. Instead of video games, he played outdoors with friends and spent time with his grandparents. That’s where he observed the neighborhood doctor on his rounds. “That inspired me,” he recalls. “There, the doctor doesn’t wait until you get sick to treat you. They make a plan with you about how you can stay healthy instead. Right in your home.”
From a young age, Arhian grew up wanting to be a surgeon. His grandfather encouraged his studies and knew the government would provide medical education for free. But his mother and stepfather sought a better life in the U.S., uprooting the small family when Arhian was eight years old.
“I didn’t forget about being a surgeon,” Arhian recalls, “but I left it behind.” Though both his parents had college degrees from Cuba, his mother worked at a daycare and his stepfather juggled jobs as a mechanic and janitor in the U.S. Yet Arhian excelled in the classroom, mastering English, and also on the baseball field. His high school counselor encouraged him to apply for scholarships. Ahrian found the St. David’s Neal Kocurek Scholarship and applied. Though his application was one of more than 500, his accomplishments in and out of the classroom meant he was a perfect fit for the scholarship program.
A St. David’s Foundation Kocurek Scholar, Arhian is now a Biology major at the University of Texas at Austin, with a long-term goal to be a doctor. In addition to an eight-year, $7,500 per year scholarship to study medicine, he was matched with a mentor in the healthcare field who provides encouragement.
“If I hadn’t gotten this scholarship, maybe I’d be working a low-wage job,” Arhian says. “But I wouldn’t stay stagnant. I’m always trying to improve myself. I get that quality from my grandfather.”
Growing up in Southern California, Raji wanted to be an oceanographer, but becoming a mother at age 20 reset her priorities. Working in restaurants or as a caterer meant she could be there for her son. When her father was disabled by a stroke, she took him in. She also saw her older brother struggle to get the care he needed for serious mental illness.
Finally, at age 46, it was time to make a change for herself. Always a fitness nut, she wanted to apply her passion for wellness to a job helping others, so she enrolled in the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) program at Austin Community College (ACC). Her instructors encouraged her to pursue paramedic training. “I gave up my house since I couldn’t afford to pay a mortgage as a full-time student,” Raji recalls, “and I gave up free time and friends,” she adds with a laugh.
With help from St. David’s Foundation’s ACC Endowed Scholarship, which provides $2,000 a year to study health sciences, Raji earned her Associate Degree in Applied Science. Recognized for her academic performance by Phi Theta Kappa honor society, Raji now has the credentials to pursue various paths in healthcare.
For now, she’s a rookie paramedic in Hays County, pulling 24-hour shifts and able to lift more than her own body weight.
“When the time comes to hang up my boots,” she says, “I would like to transition to Community Paramedicine which takes the pressure off the 911 system by helping people who call most frequently.” This emerging health profession allows paramedics and EMTs to provide routine healthcare services to underserved populations and helps to improve rural emergency medical services. “You can build a relationship with a patient and it saves money and provides better care.”