Al Forthan Memorial Scholarship 2023 Annual Awards Ceremony

On Wednesday, May 3rd, Volunteers of America Oregon Men’s Residential Center had the honor of hosting the annual Al Forthan Memorial Scholarship Award Ceremony.

Since the creation of the scholarship in 2006, VOA Oregon has been able to award $876,000 to 543 Oregon high school seniors!

This year, $86,000 was awarded to 47 students. The largest scholarship, $10,000, was awarded to Kalia Hope from Oregon City high school.

Kalia is one of 35% of youth involved in the foster care system that will graduate high school and hopes to become one of only 2.5% to earn their bachelor’s degree. After 12 years of instability, Kalia has made it out on the other side. “I think I was around six or seven years old. I got told by a caseworker to hold on to hope […] there was a point maybe around 10 or 11 where I’m like I don’t even want to hear that word anymore. But then I learned the abbreviation ‘Hold On Pain Ends’ and that’s something I’ve held onto ever since.”

Kalia is currently in the process of legally changing her last name to Hope. Of her life so far she said, “I’m not afraid of my experiences anymore because […] I’ve been given a chance to do more than survive.”

Many recipients and speakers mentioned the therapeutic nature of the scholarship. The simple yet cathartic act of sitting down and finally telling someone, even if it was an anonymous judge, your whole entire story without fear of judgment or invalidation.

This was especially true for Lane Shaffer from McDaniel high school. “As I started writing about the impact of addiction, the emotions began to flow. I cried more than a few times, something that I had not allowed myself the time or space to do before writing these essays. I knew that when I’d finished the application, whether or not I received the scholarship, I had benefited greatly just from putting my thoughts and feelings on the paper.”

The supporters of the Al Forthan scholarship were also treated to a special visit from Essie Mathieson who received a $4,000 scholarship in 2013, which allowed her to attend East West College of the Healing Arts. In the 10 years since receiving the scholarship, Essie has gone on to work as a massage therapist on the Oregon coast specializing in those dealing with cancer, aging bodies, or disability.

When Essie was asked to speak at the ceremony, she wondered, “What about me is interesting enough?” A question that never crossed anyone else’s mind. “But a good friend of mine reminded me that honesty in itself is always interesting. And that’s what I can lead with.”

Honesty, healing, and hope is what the Al Forthan Memorial Scholarship brings to Oregon high school seniors whose lives have been forever changed due to the impact of addiction on their families.

The impact of Al Forthan’s story and passion for recovery echoes across years, generations, and will continue to shape the lives of Oregonians for decades to come. There is no denying the power a gift to this scholarship has. The impact on a young adult’s life, and the sheer strength of the human spirit you hear when you listen to the stories of the recipients and the members of Team VOA who work with them is life changing.