ROCKINGHAM — Exactly two weeks after graduating from Leak Street High School, valedictorian LaSummer Bruton found out she had received another honor: the Eckerd Success Award.
That accolade came as a $4,000 scholarship.
“I was excited,” Bruton said. “When I applied for it, I had to break down what I wanted it for.”
With the scholarship money, Bruton was able to use $700 for books at Richmond Community College and buy a used car — a 1997 Oldsmobile Cutlass — and a gas card to get her to and from class.
Clearwater, Florida-based Eckerd bills itself as “the first name in second chances” and ranks among the biggest private nonprofit youth and family services groups in the nation.
“Eckerd has offered financial assistance to disadvantaged students served by our services (since 2002),” the group says on its website. “Success Awards help youth at risk by supporting their educational and vocational needs, and removing barriers to a successful transition to adulthood.”
Bruton became a teen mother in the 10th grade, but she didn’t let that hold her back.
“The way I felt, I thought it was the end,” she said. “But I realized it was only the beginning.”
After dropping out of Richmond Senior High, she was advised by Daryl Mason to petition for a transfer to Leak Street, an alternative school that Principal Susan Brigman says tries to help students that may not have been successful in a traditional school to graduate before they age out.
“I couldn’t have done it without the help I had,” Bruton said.
In addition to graduating at the top of her class, Bruton received three other scholarships totaling $1,700.
“I’m extremely proud of LaSummer and of her accomplishments,” Brigman said.
She said Bruton was determined and positive, a “little ray of sunshine.” Brigman added that all of Bruton’s teachers spoke highly of her.
The principal also said that Bruton was very trustworthy, which is why she hired her to work in the school’s main office over the summer.
“She didn’t let her circumstances hinder her from graduating from high school,” said Jacqueline Ellerbe-Shannon, Adolescent Parenting Program coordinator.
“It really amazes me how these young girls are determined to graduate and become good parents (when) they have children as teenagers,” Ellerbe-Shannon said.
Bruton and her son will be moving into a new apartment next week.
The following week, she will begin classes at Richmond Community College — on her son’s third birthday — to continue her education to become a social worker.
Her toddler is set to begin Head Start in the fall.
“Just because you have a baby, don’t give up,” she said. “There’s always someone willing to help give a hand up.”
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675.