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Community Foundation of Fox River Valley changing lives

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When it comes to her future, Sonisha LeSure always has in mind two objectives.

Both are tall, good-looking, excellent students and even at age 10 play a mean game of basketball.

“My twin boys are the catalyst behind my desire to do more, to continue learning every single day,” said the 42-year-old Edward Hospital nurse and single mom who lives in Sugar Grove.

“When it comes to my motivation, it all goes back to the boys,” LeSure said. “I want to leave a legacy for them.”

As it turns out, one reason LeSure can continue this quest is because of a $1,000 scholarship she recently received from the Walter A. Sperry Endowment Fund.

LeSure, who is working toward a graduate degree as a nurse practitioner at Northern Illinois University, is among 509 local students who recently received scholarships administered through the Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley in its 2024 scholarship program.

This nonprofit organization oversees funding from local individuals, families, businesses or clubs that want to establish permanent endowments or temporary funds. Since its founding in 1948, it has awarded nearly $25 million in scholarships, including a record $3 million these latest students will get over four years.

Among those 2024 recipients is Ryan McDonough, who was awarded the $2,000 Michael David McGrath Scholarship that will financially help him his senior year at Aurora University, where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in communication with an emphasis on multimedia production.

In his application essay for the scholarship, the 27-year-old Aurora man talked about his struggles with autism, which began when he was diagnosed at age 2.

Non-verbal and placed in self-contained classrooms early on, McDonough said it was through “hard work and people who believed in me” that he was able to graduate from Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, attend a transition program and receive an associate’s degree from College of DuPage before going on to AU.

“Life has not been easy.” McDonough told me in a Thursday phone interview. “I am very determined and sometimes don’t know when to quit.”

At the same time, “I also know my own limits,” he continued, and am “not afraid to reach out to others if I need help with something out of my skill sets.”

Like LeSure, the scholarship will help with tuition and books. As it will for NIU accounting student Connor Bailey McCormick of North Aurora, a recipient of scholarship funds the past few years from the Danny McCue Memorial/Aurora Firefighters Scholarship Endowment Fund.

McCormick’s grandfather was a member of the Aurora Fire Department and personally knew the McCue family, he wrote in his application essay, adding “I may not have the impact on the world that our first responders have, but I have learned many lessons from them that I value.”

Recipients come from all over Kane, DuPage and Kendall counties, with 55% need-based and 45% based on merit/academic achievements. Among them are Lilly Coats of Geneva, who will be attending Marquette University to study biomedical engineering – and play soccer – with plans to work in cancer research fueled by her dad’s 2019 death from leukemia. She received a scholarship in memory of another Geneva and Marquette graduate, Ben Horonzy, who died in 2008.

Other awardees include EH Hser, a first generation college student from Aurora, who will be attending AU with financial help from the Charles and Josiedell Carnes Endowment; Cassidy Noel Hastings of Naperville, who received the Clemens-Clair Future Educators Scholarship and will be a freshman at Olivet Nazarene University; and Anna Domenique DeVries of South Elgin, who for six years has received the Howard E. Charles Jr. Endowment Scholarship and will be attending Carroll University.

Of course there are far too many recipients – high school and college graduates, as well as trade school students – to name in this column. All have their own unique and compelling stories. And all, no doubt, are appreciative of the generosity of the donors who recognize how special it is to keep alive the memories of loved ones through these scholarships.

McDonough “can’t say enough” about that support. Just as he’s come to appreciate all the help received from family, friends, coworkers, classmates and teachers over the years, the young man also sees this scholarship as recognition of his efforts to overcome a disability he no longer sees as debilitating.

Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley scholarship recipient Ryan McDonough, diagnosed at age two with autism, credits support from others and his own determination with overcoming challenges in life (Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley)
Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley scholarship recipient Ryan McDonough, diagnosed at age 2 with autism, credits support from others and his own determination with overcoming challenges in life. (Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley)

“I don’t think of (autism) as a weakness” but as “a unique strength … one of those everyday challenges we all have” in one way or another, McDonough said. “The scholarship is giving me a big chance. Not only am I appreciative of it, it tells me I feel appreciated by others.

“No matter where I am, I have people who have my back and want me to succeed. It gives me motivation to finish up strong,” said McDonough, who after getting his AU degree next year hopes to begin a career in film editing.

After a dozen years of nursing, LeSure told me she decided to become a nurse practitioner because she noticed how there are so many patients who don’t care for themselves as well as they should in a home setting.

“I want to be able to treat as well as educate them on their chronic conditions,” she said. “If you know better you do better.”

Not only is LeSure working full-time as a nurse while also taking graduate courses and guiding the busy lives of her twins, she recently started her own health care business that she hopes to continue growing long after that master’s degree is in hand.

This work ethic she hopes to pass down to her boys, LeSure insisted, comes from her late grandparents, Dorothy and Charles Richardson, who raised her through childhood and were there for her every step of the way until their deaths.

Who knows, she continued, maybe “someday there will even be a legacy scholarship” through the Community Foundation in their names.

“I know,” LeSure said, “I am making them proud.”

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