Back to Life Lessons

2016 Grand Prize - Essay

James Clodfelter

Scholarship Amount: $15,000

Hometown: Lexington, NC - School: Wingate University

After losing my father to lung cancer in 2006, I was 7 years old. Without his steady income and also without adequate life insurance covering his loss, my mother had to raise my brother (10yo), my sister (9yo) and me by herself solely on SSI and Disability income. She did this despite a house fire in 2006 that displaced our family for a year, my older brother’s open-heart surgery in 2011, and her own lung cancer diagnosis in 2011. Unfortunately for her and our family, she also passed away from this terrible disease in 2012 when I was only 14 years old.

Knowing the financial hardships that she faced in losing our father so young & her own potential mortality, she was able to struggle and obtain a small Life Insurance policy on herself in the event that anything may happen to her as well. When she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, her policy was already in place. This allowed us to prepare for her eventual passing at lest not worrying financially. With the proceeds from her small policy, we were able to pay for her funeral as well as to have funds on hand to pay the mortgage on our Habitat house that my parents had purchased when my brother was born. This was very important to my parents who had worked hard their lives to provide stable housing for my siblings and myself after they started a family and they were proud of their house. Also, it was truly important for my mother that with the eventual loss of both parents, that my siblings & myself have as few disruptions in our lives that could be prevented. Having stable housing (paid for with Life Insurance proceeds) removed one barrier to our misfortunes.

With the SSI income for my sister and me (my brother had just turned 18yo after our mother passed away), we were able to manage monthly household finances and thrive the past 4 years. This would not have been possible without the Life Insurance proceeds earmarked for the mortgage. It was a struggle, but we learned to pay bills, wash clothes, clean house, keep up our schoolwork, and provide meals. In spite of this setback, we all managed to thrive: My older brother graduated High School one month before her passing and works full-time at his manufacturing job. My older sister graduated High School with Honors and is currently a sophomore at Lenoir Rhyne University majoring in psychology while doing work-study. I am finishing my High School career in June 2016 with plans to enroll at college to study Music Education. During my high school years, I have tried to honor myself and my parents by excelling in areas of my talents. I have earned numerous All-County Chorus Honors, Mars Hill Honors Chorus, Most Outstanding Chorus/Ensemble Student, been chosen as Bass Section Leader, and been chosen to attend the Southeast USA American Choral Directors Association’s conference every year. I have also been invited to audition for choruses at several colleges where I am applying. During high school, I have been active singing in our local Choral Society for several years, performing throughout our community. Also, I have been active in my local Boy Scout Troop, earning my Eagle Award in February 2016 after years of hard work and commitment. In addition to these activities, I have volunteered throughout our community with non-profits as well as been active in my church.

In sum, I can truthfully say that in my short life span, I have seen firsthand the hardships faced from losing one’s parent; unfortunately, I have had to undergo this hardship not once, but twice. The financial ‘life lessons’ learned by my mother after my father’s death were passed along to my siblings and me were: perseverance, diligence, honesty, hard work, and sound financial planning. Additionally, from her and my mentor, we also learned the importance for planning ahead for potentially devastating life events. My mother’s advance planning after my father’s death included having adequate life insurance.

You can help students like James make their dream of a college education come true by donating to the nonprofit Life Lessons Scholarship fund. Donate here.

2016 Top Recipients