TCF Recipient Spotlight: Laura Cantrell
Photos courtesy of Laura Cantrell
These wise words are simply timeless. And when an eligible CIRI shareholder or descendant is ready to embrace their potential, The CIRI Foundation is prepared to help make educational dreams a real-life opportunity. Because our students work hard to change their lives, we want to highlight their inspiring educational journeys. So, we are honored to celebrate success stories in our TCF Recipient Spotlights.
TCF Recipient and Anchorage resident Laura Cantrell is a single mother of a son, Xavio, age 11 and a daughter, Angelina, age 4. She is the daughter of Donald Cantrell. Laura remembers him fondly saying, “He worked for CIRI and Southcentral Foundation at the Ernie Turner Center to help recovering alcoholics. He was a good person,” Laura said.
As an intern at Cook Inlet Tribal Council this summer, Laura is eager to give back to her community like her father did. She is passionate about spreading awareness of the resources available within our community. And Laura is well-equipped to do the job with hard-earned, first-hand experience rising above the many challenges she has faced.
Laura’s educational journey restarts as a middle-school dropout and young mother who had been on her own since her teens. “I hit rock bottom. I came from homelessness, and I used to use drugs. I was doing a lot of bad things as a teenager,” Laura said, “and then I found out I was pregnant with my son, and I quit everything immediately.”
She also left an abusive relationship and got into Covenant House’s Passage House Mother and Child Program. Laura earned her GED shortly after her son was born when she was 19. She continued taking life-skill classes at Passage House too. “They helped me so much with parenting classes because I don’t know anything about being a mom,” Laura said.
She found a position teaching at Clare Swan Early Learning Center, where she earned a CDA certificate. CITC helped her with the rent deposit on an apartment – she is still in that apartment six years later, and her daughter now attends preschool at CSELC. “Clare Swan helped me in so many ways, not only as an employee but as a parent. Clare Swan is completely free and an amazing program. I’m very thankful for them,” Laura said.
As stability grew in her home life, so did her career ambitions. With two young kids at home, Laura wanted a change to a career that offered room to grow, so she went back to school. Her educational journey continued with SCF’s medical assistant training program. After moving into an online-only format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she completed the program with a 4.O GPA — just in time to don personal protective gear and jump into the early fight against COVID.
“You’re supposed to get hands-on experience at school, and I didn’t do anything until I went into the field for my externship. It was extremely crazy. We were short-staffed for medical assistants, so some days, I would be doing the job of two to three medical assistants, and I really loved it. I learned a lot. I think it helped me learn to multitask and not get too overwhelmed while working,” Laura said. “After that, I can handle anything!”
And she recently proved that she could also handle the pressure of speaking in front of 300 people at a Passage House fundraiser – sharing her story is one way she is already giving back to her community. “My knees were shaking, but I could do it again. I am really grateful for them,” Laura said.
After working in health care for about a year, Laura was drawn to the accounting field, and she knew to reach out to TCF for post-secondary education scholarships and resources. “I just went online and filled out the form. I think it was pretty straightforward,” she said.
As a TCF recipient, she is enrolled in Alaska Career College, pursuing an associate’s degree in accounting and business administration. And as she finishes this degree, she is already thinking of her next steps. She is considering enrolling at the University of Alaska Anchorage for an associate’s degree in human services.
“I just want to be able to give back to the community and help people in a way that CITC, Clare Swan and Passage House helped me. I was receiving TANF before and food stamps,” Laura said. “I would take an hour bus ride from a shelter in Muldoon to work for minimum wage at my son’s daycare center. I would have to carry my son, his backpack, my purse and my lunch for a couple of blocks in the snow. I was determined to create a better life for my child and I.”
When asked if she has any advice for future TCF recipients, Laura said, “If you’re considering applying with The CIRI Foundation, go for it and reach out if you have questions. I went from teaching at Clare Swan to the medical field to being home with my kids enrolled in school full-time for a degree in accounting/business administration.”
Laura is an inspiring example of how the CIRI family continually strives to meet the needs of the whole person/family at all life stages to help shareholders and descendants reach their full potential. We can’t wait to see where her success leads to next!