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Thirty-three students from the Swannanoa Valley are getting help with their college expenses in the coming year after winning $42,000 in scholarships from the Kiwanis Club of Black Mountain-Swannanoa in May.

One of the recipients, Western Carolina University student Chiberu (John) Egandu, a native of the African nation of Uganda, spoke at the club’s June 13 meeting. 

Egandu, recipient of the $1,500 Pam Brown Memorial Scholarship, told the Kiwanians he was born a Muslim, (his mother’s faith,) in a small Ugandan village. 

While a young boy, he became a Christian (his father’s religion,) and was given the Christian name “John,” after John the Baptist.   

At his grandfather’s request, Christian missionary Theresa Leonhardt took John under her wing and brought him to Black Mountain about 11 years ago. He attended Black Mountain Elementary and Owen Middle and High Schools before going on to Brevard College, A-B Tech and now WCU. 

“It’s not every day that you hear of a kid who comes from nowhere really….and has come all this way," Egandu said. "I know God has a road map for me.”  

He also reflected on the Kiwanis Scholarship program.

“I know a lot of kids in this community are stopped from going to college because they can’t afford it," he said. "What (Kiwanis) is doing is really helpful to kids in giving them the opportunity for a higher education.” 

Another scholarship winner, 2019 Owen High School graduate Wesley Melton, told the Kiwanians he plans to take courses at A-B Tech in preparation for serving the country in the U. S. Coast Guard.  

Melton said after his father’s bout with cancer placed financial burdens on his family, he needed help with college expenses and found it after applying for, and receiving, the Neil Orange Kiwanis scholarship.

Other Owen High School graduates receiving Kiwanis scholarships are Rachel Beaver, Cody Hill, Ashley Hollowell, Brandon Nightingale, Sierra Onofin, Maysen Rathe, McKayla Rice, Kaitlyn Rogers, Anna-Kate Self and Kaitlyn Morris.

Abe Gomez, Amahdi Allah, Sydney Bartolomel, Matthew Etheredge, Quinten Foster, Andrew Frasure, Melanie Goldsmith and James Kickliter, graduates of Community High School in Swannanoa, received scholarships as well.

Fourteen previous Kiwanis scholarship winners, who are already attending college, successfully applied for scholarship renewals.   They are Melissa Akduman, Emily Beaver, Kelsie Collins, Sean Douglas, Caleigh Howerton, Caitlyn Ledford, Taylor Meletti, Bridgette Shope, Beverly Staugh, Angela Thomas, Ashley Valencia, Benjamin Warlick and Zachary Payne.

The dollar amounts awarded each student ranged from $750 to $2,000. 

The Kiwanis Club solicits applications for the scholarships each spring and awards them, based primarily on financial need and academic promise. 

Community service, activities and work history are also considered. Black Mountain Vice Mayor Maggie Tuttle chairs the Kiwanis Scholarship Committee.

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