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Chelsea Phillips stands with her sons Tyler, left, and JaKayden. Chelsea is Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund's Student of The Month for June 2022.
At her May graduation ceremony, Chelsea Phillips received two surprises.
The first was receiving the Florence Nightingale Award, which is South Arkansas Community College Betty Owen School of Practical Nursing’s highest honor. It recognizes a nursing student who goes above and beyond in the program to advocate for patients and engage fully with the learning process.
The second was when her 12-year-old son, Tyler, pulled her aside and said he was proud of her. “It was so sweet. I was in tears.” Chelsea said. “I was like, ‘He’s been watching!’ Because at that age you just don’t know.”
Chelsea has worked hard to show her two sons, Tyler and four-year-old JaKayden, that they should never give up on their dreams. The 34-year-old knew she wanted to become a nurse since she was in high school, but a paycheck was more important.
Since graduating high school, Chelsea has worked at Walgreens as a pharmacy technician to provide for her family. Then, her husband was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer and died.
“That’s what really pushed me to say, ‘It’s my time,’” Chelsea said. “I watched the nurses take care of him, and it just really spoke to me because this is what I want to do.”
At her May graduation ceremony, Chelsea Phillips received the Florence Nightingale Award.
She started slow, taking prerequisite courses and saving money for a few years. In 2020, She applied and was accepted to an evening nursing program. But working full time, going to school, and taking care of her kids was too much: She didn’t pass the first semester.
“It hurt. It hurt for a while,” she said. “But I was like, ‘It’s not going to stop me because I’m at the point where it’s time for me to do what I want, and this is what I really want to do.’
Chelsea realized she had to make sacrifices to make her dream of becoming a nurse come true. For six months Chelsea worked as hard as she could to save money. She took a leave of absence from Walgreens with no pay so she could attend SouthArk’s full-time, one-year nursing program.
Thanks to the school’s Career Pathways Initiative, she learned of the Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund. “It was definitely a blessing because not working for an entire year, making that sacrifice, [was hard],” she said. “The scholarship took a lot of stress out, so I could still focus on my studies and be OK.”
She used her scholarship check to pay for graduation expenses and household bills. Chelsea also said she benefited from ASPSF’s workshops, especially one focusing on mental health. “I learned so much because like the instructor was saying, ‘If you don’t take care of you, you can’t take care of anyone else.’ That really stuck with me.”
Chelsea Phillips celebrates her degree with her sons Tyler and JaKayden.
For the remainder of 2022, Chelsea will work — she returned to Walgreens the week after her SouthArk graduation — and take two classes so she can apply and enroll in a registered nursing program, which begins in January.
“My long-term goal is to be where I’m needed,” Chelsea said. “With the field of nursing, you never stop learning and you’re always needed.”
The SouthArk one-year nursing program was intense, but worth it, Chelsea said. She’s used her new knowledge and skills to help take care of her grandmother who has Alzheimer’s disease.
Plus, as the first in her family to go to college, she’s set an example and shown that they can do it, too. Modeling his mother, JaKayden now likes to do homework, Chelsea said. “When I pick him up from school, he’s like, “Mom, we got to work on homework today!” Instead of watching TV in the evenings, the toddler finds paper around their home so he can study with Chelsea after dinner and bath time.
Chelsea said that the advice she would give to other single parents who are going to school is to not give up and to use available resources, like the Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund.
“A lot of people may be embarrassed or ashamed because they don’t feel like they should ask for help or feel like they can’t do it — but don’t be!" she said. "There is this scholarship and other resources that can help you."
Chelsea Phillips overcame many challenges to achieve her educational goal of earning a nursing degree.