2017 GRBS Perseverance Award Winners

The GRBS Perseverance Scholarship is designed to recognize students that have had to overcome significant personal challenges and or hardships. All applicants have authorized us to share their stories in hopes of providing inspiration to those who read them. Here are the amazing 2017 GRBS Perseverance Award Winners. If after reading these stories of perseverance you are moved to contribute to any of our recipient’s further education, please contact Heather East at GRBS (800-441-4463 or heast@grbsinc.com) who will share how you can help.


Thank you to our co-sponsors


  • Our Co-Sponsor Hillyard Proudly Supports District Scholarship Winners In:

    Byron Center
    Reed City

  • Our Co-Sponsor Nichols Proudly Supports District Scholarship Winners In:


  • Our Co-Sponsor KSS Proudly Supports District Scholarship Winners In:

    Comstock Park

  • Our Co-Sponsor Spartan Proudly Supports District Scholarship Winners In:


  • Belding Area Schools: Savhana Campbell

    As a freshman in high school, our recipient began to have a rough home life. During this time, her younger brother was diagnosed with kidney disease and a brain tumor that kept him in the hospital for an extended period of time. Feeling helpless, she became clinically depressed. Through it all, she learned to persevere through all types of adversity. She writes, “Through my struggles, I have learned to be patient with people and never force them to open up because I find it hard myself to talk about my experiences. I have also learned to be more caring towards people because you never know what they have gone through. I know I am beautiful and I am useful in this world”.

  • Birch Run Area Schools: Austin Smith

    Since the day he was born, our recipient has had to overcome hardships. As a newborn, he spent the first few months of his life in the ICU, and required two surgeries that have left him with physical scars that he feels separates him from his peers. In kindergarten, his mother realized one of the medications he was taking caused permanent hearing loss. At this time, there was no hearing aid that had been made for his specific hearing impairment; therefore, he learned to read lips and had to undergo speech therapy for years. This made it hard to excel in academics, and he quickly realized he would have to try harder than others to succeed. Living in a single parent home with his mother, he has had to not only persevere through medical issues, but financial hardships as well. He writes, “Perseverance is all I have known from the moment I was born. My ability to overcome the hardships of having a hearing impairment, health challenges and being born to a teenage mother demonstrates my drive to be successful.”

  • Birmingham Public Schools (Seaholm): Stephanie Sills

  • Birmingham Public Schools (Groves): Casey Sherwood

    From an early age, our recipient has had to overcome the struggles in a challenging household. She became a caregiver for her brothers, her aunt, and grandparents. There were health issues requiring nurses and doctors to constantly visit the home that she had to manage. She had to learn to juggle her social, academic, and family life while looking after her siblings. She writes, “Throughout this life experience, I learned a lot about myself. Despite growing up before I had to, this situation taught me how to manage life when I was most vulnerable, and I will forever be grateful for that.”

  • Birmingham Public Schools (Lincoln): Rachael Ferguson

    As a child, our recipient grew up in the Southwest side of Detroit with her parents until they separated when she was seven. Her father has health problems that prevent him from working, and her mother worked many long nights to support the family, so in her spare time, she works as a babysitter, and also works in a student mentor program at Beverly Elementary. The first few years of high school were rough for her, but now she is on track to graduate in time, and will be the first of her siblings to attend college. She writes, “I want to be successful and have a future for myself, I want to be able to provide for myself and my children, which requires a good education. I hope that with the help of the GRBS Perseverance Scholarship, I can continue to move forward, and attend college!”

  • Byron Center Public Schools: Jaspinder Singh

    Our recipient has had to constantly adapt to an unfamiliar environment throughout her life. Her parents separated, and her mother thought it would be best for her to move and live with her uncle in the United States and further her education. Moving to a foreign country at the age of 11 was difficult, but she did her best to adjust to the new environment. While living with her uncle, they moved many times, and this took a toll on her education. However, she focused on her studies and made new friends in the process. She writes, “Everyone here in Byron Center was welcoming to me, both students or teachers. Overall, my challenges have transformed me into a responsible person, and I look forward to continuing my education in college this fall.”

  • Cedar Springs Public Schools: Tatum Oxford

    In her early teens, our recipient was diagnosed with a multitude of illnesses, including anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. Practically living in the doctor’s office, she found it challenging to complete every-day tasks that were once second nature. After losing one friend to suicide, and two friends involved in car accidents, she began having thoughts of self-harm. She writes, “I am a survivor of many hardships. I am a young woman who has survived daily battle with chronic and mental illnesses, grief, and trauma each and every day thus far. Each bump in my road has also been a building flock for larger things yet to come in my future.”

  • Comstock Park Public Schools: Alyssa Naughton **Student of the Year**

    After experiencing a horrific car accident last year. Not only did she break her leg, pelvis, shoulder, and ribs, but tragically, she lost her leg, and she lost her friend. This devastating accident was followed a few months later with another tragedy when her father lost his battle with cancer. This was the hardest obstacle for her to overcome, even though she knew that day would eventually come. But she is here graduating with all of you, and submitting an essay about perseverance and making the best of an awful situation. She writes, “Although this has been a difficult journey thus far, knowing that my two favorite people are watching over me makes me ten times more motivated to accomplish hard tasks in life.”

  • Comstock Public Schools: Parker Munson

    At a young age our recipient had to face significant stress and separation with members of his family that continued for many years and eventually he began to look after himself and his brother. The responsibilities began to pile up, and it started to affect his education. However, he knew how important it was to get an education, so he pushed through the adversity and did his best to succeed in school. He plans to go to KVCC and then transfer to Western Michigan University to become a physician’s assistant. He writes, “This hardship will change who I am for the rest of my life in positive and negative ways. I know that I want to live my life to the fullest and be as successful and as happy as I can in my life. I want to go to college, graduate, and get the job of my dreams.”

  • DeWitt Public Schools: Elena Lippert

    After being abandoned as an infant on a park bench in Russia, our recipient was thrust in the orphanage system, eventually being adopted at the age of two. She was moved to the United States to be with her adoptive family or as she calls them, her forever family. During this time, she had to overcome language and cultural barriers. However, she now recognizes that her hardships as a young child have made her stronger today. She writes, “No matter how many degrees I receive and no matter how much I have grown, I will never forget the humble beginnings that I came from.”

  • Fremont Public Schools: Samantha Wheater

    As a young child, our recipient was constantly moving from home to home with her older sister. Eventually, the two girls ended up in a foster home. Where she writes she was constantly mistreated. She describes it as a blessing for her when she was finally removed, although her sister was forced to stay. Ultimately, she found a foster family which adopted her on National Adoption Day. Going through the foster care system was a tough experience for her, but she knew one day she would find a permanent home. She writes, “Going through these hardships have made me become aware that no matter who you are, or what you do, or what has been done to you, there will always be someone who loves you.”

  • Galesburg-Augusta Community Schools: Samantha Brooks

    Growing up in a single-parent household since she was an infant, our recipient is very thankful for the people that are involved in her life today. Her mother has raised her since she was a newborn after her father unexpectedly moved out of state. She writes, “I am appreciative for all of the significant lessons I learned from my mother. I will continue to mature, learn, and become more knowledgeable and stronger with each passing day.”

  • Garden City Public Schools: Tionna Thompson

    From an early age, our recipient had had to overcome many obstacles. The biggest, and most important, has been looking after her mother who is epileptic, while juggling other responsibilities such as school and sports. Due to her mother’s diagnosis, she is unable to drive, and is also unable to attend many of our recipients sporting events. She writes, “It can be very stressful living this lifestyle but I actually like it. It makes me very strong and know that anything is possible when you put your mind to it. I cannot wait until June 9th so I can put the biggest smile on my mom’s face.”

  • Gaylord Community Schools: Bridget Somerville

  • Harrison Community Schools: Brandon Nimtz

    Since the very beginning of his life, our recipient has endured many hardships. After losing his dad before the age of one, he was separated from his mother shortly after. When his mother relocated to Florida this past year, he felt it was best for his own future to remain in Harrison and finish his schooling with all of you, and felt fortunate to have an Aunt and Uncle who would support him in this decision. He excels in school and plans to further his education to make a better life for himself. He writes, “Generally when I tell people about my mom or dad, I decided not to look at it like a disadvantage; my experiences in life don’t hold me back and I will never let them.”

  • Hartland Consolidated Schools: Jordan Berry

    Our recipient has agreed to have her story shared with all of you tonight. She had to overcome many hardships in her lifetime. She started hearing voices in her head when she was young, and wasn’t sure what to think of it. Eventually, she realized that it was depression that was making her feel the way she did. Being a child and having these feelings can be tough, especially if you don’t know who to turn to for help. Her symptoms got worse, and she ended up in the hospital. Some of the nurses she met helped to cheer her up before she left, and she eventually realized that feeling different was not necessarily a bad thing if she could control her feelings. She writes, “Eventually, but with a lot of struggle, I have in my mind overcome the worst of it. Without perseverance and my family and friends and music, I wouldn’t be here today. Thank you to everyone who has helped me.”

  • Hastings Area Schools: Emily Pattok

    Hardships have been the norm throughout the life of our recipient. Growing up in an abusive and impoverished household, there were times when she was without food and clean clothes. During these times, she would often live with her grandparents, which was a blessing given the conditions of her home life. Eventually, her grandparents adopted her and her siblings, and she finally got the support she needed. She plans to attend the University of Michigan and writes, “Many days I cannot think of these events without being angry and upset. However, I know that if not for this past I may not be the strong, young woman that I am today. The hardships I have faced push me to work hard in every single situation I encounter.”

  • Holland Public Schools: Juliana Ramirez-Matias

    Growing up in the U.S. in a household in which the primary language was not English proved to be very difficult for our recipient. With her family, she emigrated from Guatemala. Learning a new language, adapting to the culture, and fitting in with society was no easy task. She often found herself trying to teach her father English, while at the same time trying to learn it herself. School was often difficult, as her parents’ could not help her with schoolwork. However, she inherited her hard-working spirit from her father, and chose to fight through the adversity instead of letting it get the best of her. She writes, “For the future, this has taught me that every opportunity to grow disguises itself as a challenge, and when facing any hardship, to consider it one day at a time, just as my dad still reads words by speaking one letter at a time.”

  • Kent City Community Schools: Jenna Reed

    From an early age, our recipient was raised solely by her mother. Even through the hard times, her mother went back to school to earn her Master’s degree to make a better life for the both of them. While there were times when she struggled financially and emotionally, she knew that giving up wasn’t an option. At the age of fifteen, our recipient began working at a pharmacy, and was enrolled in college classes at GRCC during her senior year. She plans to go to Ferris State University where she will work to earn a degree in Psychology. She writes, “What I’ve been through has shaped who I’ve become.”

  • Lakeview Community Schools: Caitlin Madlener

    Our recipient for the Perseverance Award is no stranger to adversity. She writes, “Everyone needs to have perseverance to get through the ups and downs of life. Life is often described as a rollercoaster because of those ups and downs, there are moments where one will feel like they’re on top of the world, and there are other moments where one will feel like the world is on top of them.” She defines perseverance as, “the continued effort to do or achieve something, despite difficulties, failures, or opposition.”

  • Mt Pleasant Public Schools: Sean Fitzgerald

    Our recipient knows what it is like to be bullied and picked on. Throughout elementary school in a different district, he was bullied for being overweight and socially awkward. However, he knew he could turn to football, the game he loves, to help cope with his problems. Football was his escape from everything else that was going on, and he always felt at home on the field. He was offered a scholarship to the Air Force Academy, but turned it down in hopes of becoming a member of the Michigan Football team. He writes, “My perseverance has given me the opportunity to become the man I am today. It has been a difficult journey, but I have a hunger to make a name for myself in this world.”

  • Parchment Schools: McKenna Cook

    In high school, our recipient was dissatisfied with her body image. Instead of sitting around, doing nothing, and being unhappy about it, she decided to take action. She was inspired by a friend who had recently lost weight, and she knew she could do it if she tried. Finding the motivation to make a change was not always easy, but she knew that if she put in the effort, she would start to see the results she wanted. She writes, “Perseverance and motivation really changes your outlook on life. It’s made me stronger, obviously physically, but mentally too. I feel as if I can get though anything now, because I am accomplishing goals I never thought possible. I developed from a self-hating, mad, and sad teenage girl, to a strong and happy young woman who’s in love with her life.”

  • Plymouth Canton Community Schools (Canton): Morgan Herman

    Our recipient experienced significant challenges with separation, abuse, and depression. There came a time when she was forced to live with her grandmother in Tennessee. It was there that she began to mentally, emotionally, and physically heal from the trauma she had experienced. Unfortunately, she has recently had to cope with the death of three of her grandparents’, all of whom she was close with. However, she wants to make sure that she is around to carry on the memories of these family members. She writes, “Perseverance made me who I am today. Without all the hardships in my life, I would not be the person who is writing you this essay.”

  • Plymouth Canton Community Schools (Plymouth): Emily LeBlanc

    Our recipient shares how she learned perseverance from her older brother Nick. Nick has a rare disease that affects only 1 out of every 10,000 children in the U.S. This disability hinders him from walking, talking, and eating on his own. At first, she thought her brother’s disability was a burden to their family, but over the years, she realized how much her brother improved their lives by teaching them not to take anything for granted and cherish the little things in life. She writes, “If I could give him the chance to live a normal life like me, I would give that to him. Without a doubt, I can truthfully say that Nick’s disability has shaped who I am today. Growing up with a disabled sibling really has a remarkable impact on a person, both mentally and physically. In the future, Nick’s disability will inspire me to continue to persevere.”

  • Plymouth Canton Community Schools (Salem): Madeline Jones

    Our recipient is no stranger to adversity. At 15, while others her age were worried about school, sport, and friends, she found herself waiting to receive a bone marrow transplant. The hospital’s first attempt to find a donor unfortunately fell through, and she found herself wondering if she would be able to find a match in time. Thankfully, a donor was found, and she was given the transplant. Recovering was extremely difficult and often seemed impossible, but she pushed through the pain with the support of her friends and family. She writes, “As horrible of a journey as the transplant was, I came out of it with a better sense of who I am and who I want to be. I have a newfound confidence in myself that enables me to take charge of both my present and my future. Most importantly, I learned to continue to always persevere because what we get out of life is what we are willing to put in.”

  • Portage Public Schools (PCEC): Alex Roman

    The recipient has gone through life being raised by his mother along with four other siblings. Most of the time, money was very tight for his family, and they did the best they could to get by with what they had. As time went on, a few of his siblings grew up and moved out of the house, but it was always his goal to support his mother in any way he could to repay her for all she has done for them. He writes, “I want her to feel proud of me, and feel validated as a mom. But most of all, I want her to see herself as we see her, the most amazing woman in the world.” He also writes how his dream is to be a teacher at Portage Community High. “I believe my knowledge of the place as a student could help me with kids in the same position; show them that it’s never too late to change, and that change is a great thing”.

  • Portage Public Schools (Northern): Olivia Ballentine

  • Reed City Area Schools: Mikala Kangas

  • Sparta Area Schools: Jasmine Florida

    This recipient is no stranger to hardships and adversity. She was born in Africa, and had to move in with her aunt in Ethiopia when her father passed away. After residing with her aunt for several years, she ended up living on the streets and was eventually placed in an orphanage. After a few years, she was adopted by a family from the United States and moved here with her new family. At first, it was difficult to get used to the culture and the language, especially in school. However, she got involved in sports and other activities and made great friends throughout her years in high school. She writes, “Even though it was not easy, communicating in English got easier, and I was able to make healthy friendships. Today I am a senior at Sparta High School and I am proud of myself for facing my challenges, not giving up on myself and those who love me, and for the strong person I have become.”

  • Three Rivers Community Schools: Anthony Fund

    After landing a new job and becoming more involved in school during his junior year, our recipient got the worst news of his life. While working on the roof of their barn, his dad fell and broke three vertebrates in his back. His dad, the provider for his family, was confined to a wheelchair for 3 months. Our recipient had to grow up fast, and it was his responsibility to take on things after his father was injured. With the thought of his dad possibly being paralyzed constantly on his mind, he had to continue balancing his work, school, home, and social life while taking care of his dad and the rest of this family. He writes, “I now know how to care for my family, how to manage my priorities, and how to truly be thankful. I will cherish all of these lessons for the rest of my life.” We are sure that the dedication he has given to his family will help him to continue to be successful in college.

  • Tri County Area Schools: Jenna DeGeer

    Our recipient has loved basketball since the age of 5. She always knew she wanted to be a starter on the women’s varsity team, and wanted nothing more than to win a district championship for her school. After making the team as a freshman, she received some devastating news after collapsing at practice. Doctors told her she had a brain tumor and would require surgery. After her surgery, she watched her team play from a hospital bed. She was able to come back strong the following spring until another setback came when she was hospitalized again, requiring another brain surgery. With help from her coaches, her recovery was stronger than ever on the court, however, during a summer league game she tore her ACL, and then again during her senior season she tore her other ACL. While she has faced many setbacks during her life, she continues to come back stronger each time. She writes, “Thinking back on each one of the setbacks that I have gone through, I truly believe that I would not be who I am today, nor will I be the person I am in the future without these things happening to me.”

  • Vicksburg Community Schools: Dustin Tibbetts

  • Wayland Union Schools: Hannah Sikkema

    Growing up, our recipient had a wonderful life. She remembers camping with her family and hanging out at her grandparents’ farm. Everything changed when her grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. She watched her grandmother fight as hard as she could for months on end, but eventually her grandmother passed away. Throughout high school, she had to overcome numerous sports injuries that kept her from competing in the sports that she loves. However, she continues to be resilient in the face of adversity, and credits her grandmother for her thoughtfulness and her will to never give up. She writes, “Being optimistic, working hard, finding the good in difficult situations, and my faith in God have all helped me persevere.”