Hinds CC, foundation reward 100th GED recipient

Published 10:26 am Thursday, March 20, 2014

This year’s recipients of the Education Pays Program gather in the auditorium at Hinds Community College Vicksburg Warren Campus after Wednesday’s ceremony to honor their achievements and the 100th cash award from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation.

This year’s recipients of the Education Pays Program gather in the auditorium at Hinds Community College Vicksburg Warren Campus after Wednesday’s ceremony to honor their achievements and the 100th cash award from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation.

The 100th recipient of a GED scholarship program spearheaded by the former head of Ameristar Casino was honored Wednesday night at Hinds Community College.

Kristen Thornell, who earned her equivalency diploma in November after two months of study, was among 20 who received $500 from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation as part of the college’s Education Pays program that rewards successful GED students. Thornell was recognized as the 100th such recipient.

Since the fall, she’s enrolled at HCC as a general studies major. The accomplishment has her excited about what’s in store for her.

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“I am very proud of myself and I look forward to the bright future ahead,” Thornell said after the ceremony, held at Hinds’ Multi-Purpose Auditorium.

Ray Neilsen, co-trustee and chairman of the foundation started by his late father and himself , told the crowded auditorium education was key for all their futures.

“I’m here because we are alike,” he said. “When people don’t have education and hope for the future, they kill each other. I don’t want to live in a place where people don’t have hope.

“So this program is here to support you and give you guys the hope that you need to make something positive out of yourselves. It’s a tough world out there and if you don’t get an education, then you’re not going to be successful. We’re living in a time where we are competing with people from across the world. So it’s really important that  you go ahead and continue your education because it is the most important thing that you can do.”

The partnership between HCC and the Neilsen Foundation began in 2009 with a $50,000 commitment from the nonprofit.

Past recipients returned to the campus Wednesday night to impart some wisdom to this year’s GED class.

“At the age of 45, I was offered the opportunity to earn my GED through this program,” said Lisa Haddar, a 2010 recipient. “Not only did I graduate from Hinds, but I am currently in my second year and studying paralegal studies. I am greatful for the program for giving me a chance.

Haddar credited the foundation for jump-starting her career.

“The foundation helped me relocate close to the campus. When I started school, I was a contractor at Lockheed Martin. Had it not been for the foundation, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity to work there. When my contract expired, I became employed at Cornell Malone Corporation as a temporary employee in August of last year. Within a couple of months, I was promoted to office administrator for two of their service department divisions. I am currently being trained to be the operation manager.”

This year’s recipients credited faith and family.

Patricia Rucker, of Vicksburg and one of this year’s recipients, credited her faith for her success in the program.

“I thank God for seeing me through. If I can do this after being homeless, living out of a truck and having to rely on food stamps, then anybody can do it. This is a blessing,” said Patricia Rucker, of Vicksburg.

“I want to thank my family and teachers for pushing me when I wanted to slack off,” said Kevin Slaughter, of Vicksburg.