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Cascade student earns national Coke scholarship
Photos and Story by James Hill
Only a few years ago Amber Parke was trying to turn her life around in Project Independence, a special program for single parents, displaced homemakers and women returning to college. Now, there is no more trying, she has.
Parke, a North Portland resident, is a full-time student at PCC, works for student affairs, volunteers in the community and now can be called a Coca-Cola scholar. A second-year sociology student, she was elected as one of 400 recipients nationwide, and the only student from Oregon, through the Coca-Cola Two-Year Colleges Scholarship program. This is the ninth year the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation has funded these scholarships, which are awarded to students who have demonstrated academic success and participated in community service within the last year. As a result, Parke will receive $1,000 toward her college expenses.
"It was great," Parke said. "I didn’t realize it was such a big deal until I got a letter from U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith. I love PCC. It impacted my life for the better. It gave me the courage to explore what my interests are. There are a lot of really good mentors; they believed in me and showed me I can do things."
A single parent with a 16-year-old daughter and a self-described recovering addict, Parke started in Project Independence in winter of 2006 after 13 years of being away from college, which included a three-year stint in prison for various property crimes. Project Independence is a tuition-free program that provides information and access to a variety of educational and training opportunities for women who are on the road to becoming economically self-sufficient.
Parke has done a lot of work in the recovery community, which she knows firsthand. She helps women coming out of the prison system integrate back into the community. Her volunteer work includes serving as state board secretary for Oxford Houses of Oregon and donating her time to recovery hospitals and institutions. She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa (two-year honor society) and is a part of NEW Leadership Oregon.
"I took quite a bit from society," Parke said. "I felt it was time to give back. I’m open about my background so I felt I needed to speak for people who come after me. I wanted to talk about my own experiences and hope it might help somebody who is in a similar situation. I’d really just like to be a change agent and educate people about felons; how people can change."
She credits Cascade student leadership coordinator Kendi Esary with showing her that she could be involved on campus and make a difference at PCC, too. For Esary, it wasn’t hard to inspire Parke, who was eager to learn.
"I am thrilled that Amber received this scholarship, but I can’t say that I am surprised," Esary said. "Her performance as a student and a leader, both on campus and in the community, are a testament to how education can change a person’s life."
Parke also credits Debbie Stone of Project Independence in getting her acclimated to school and finding her niche.
"Project Independence really made me feel part of PCC and gave me the support to keep me in school," Parke added. "Also, student government was key as it made me feel connected. That’s the number one thing; feeling connected."
For more information on Project Independence, call the Women’s Resource Center at (503) 978-5249.