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Soroptimists assist young South Whidbey woman in her upward journey

"Michelle Casey hands an ice cream cone to a customer at Dairy Queen in Clinton, where she works while going to school at Skagit Valley College. Casey has been named the winner of the South Whidbey Soroptimist Women's Opportunity Award.Gayle Saran/staff photosWords that come to mind upon meeting Michelle Casey are energetic, determined and, yes, very likable. These qualities and many more helped the young Clinton woman become the recipient of this year's Women's Opportunity Award from Soroptimist of South Whidbey. Casey was selected for the financial award of $1,000 because of her well- defined education and career goals as well as her need for financial assistance, said Barb Peyser, chairwoman of the Human Rights and Status of Women committee for Soroptimist, Michelle really demonstrated to us that she is deserving of this award, Peyser said. Casey shows motivation, strength of character and has a strong sense of responsibility, she said.Casey, 21, is a student at Skagit Valley College majoring in human services. She also works full time as assistant manager at Dairy Queen in Clinton. She moved to Whidbey three years ago to help her sister and brother-in-law with their three children.Education has always been important to Casey. She was an honor student in high school and the only one of her siblings to graduate from high school.But Casey's journey to this point has not been an easy one. She grew up without much parental support. Due to illness and other problems, her mother and father were not always able to take care of Casey, one older sister and a younger brother. Two older sisters were already out of the house. It helped that I grew up in a small town in north central Washington because everyone knew everyone else, Casey said. So people took care of each other. It was a pretty safe and comfortable place to be.Casey recognized the necessity of education early in her life.My sisters dropped out of school and so did my younger brother, Casey said. I really owe a lot to my teachers at high school because they really inspired me to stay in and graduate.Becoming self-sufficient and educated has been Casey's long term goal. She remembers telling her father when she was in grade school that someday she would go to college.I've always known I needed to become educated. I've seen what happens when people aren't able to take care of themselves-- the entire family suffers, she said.Because of her experiences growing up, Casey also knew she would become involved in social work.My goal is to graduate from Skagit Valley College with an AA in Human Services, then transfer to the University of Washington for my bachelors and masters degrees in social work, she said.I love children, working with them and helping families. There are so many people out there that need help. I am very aware of family problems. In what spare time she has, Casey also volunteers with Big Brother/Big Sister.My 'little sister' is 10 and in 4th grade, she said. We like to hang out and talk and talk. We celebrate our accomplishments together -- when she does well in school and I do well we can share that. It's good for her to see me, an adult in school, who struggles and has to work hard just like she does.Casey gives credit to many people who have guided her along the way. I have had so many people in my life who have helped me, from my high school teachers and my sister to my godmother, who recently died.SVC teacher Bobbi Sandburg has also been very supportive, as has Jean Erdeli, Casey said.My bosses at Dairy queen have been great too. When I got my grades -- 3.7 -- they posted them on the bulletin board at the restaurant.It's great to have so many people pulling for me. I am always amazed at how many people are pulling for me. The Women's Opportunity Awards from Soroptimist International are intended to help women attain the education and or vocational skill they have not previously had the opportunity to pursue, because of either economic or social barriers or personal circumstances. WOA recipients are women who find themselves entering or re-entering the workforce and in need of the education and skills to improve their career opportunities and by so doing improve their standard of living.For more information about Soroptimist and their work on behalf of women, call 331-7330. "

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