Since 2005 Ann Elms helped 15 students go to college with full ride scholarships, and Texas Wesleyan is near the top of the listings.
Some of the other schools attended by those students are the University of North Texas, the University of Texas at Arlington, University of Houston, and many others.
In 2005, Elms started to work with the Circle of Winners program for the Northside Inter-Church Agency after the agency had received a Community Youth Development grant. This grant would allow students to “work” for college money.
“It was a God deal, “Elms said. The grant was a God deal to Elms because it allowed students to earn money for college, apply for scholarships and teach the students interviewing techniques for when applying for jobs.
Students are interviewed by Elms and have the chance to explain to her what they wanted to do in life and how being in the program would benefit them. Students then go to NICA about four times a week to volunteer.
When Elms met Patricia O’Neal, owner of O’Neal Oil and Gas, at a Rotary Club meeting things began to click for the Circle of Winners program.
O’Neal told Elms she wanted to meet the Circle of Winners’ participants. When O’Neal met the first group of winners, she promised the students she would pay for their college educations.
Elms helped various students from straight-A students to teen mothers. Among the teen mothers is senior Political Science major Lizbeth Lopez who is attending the University of North Texas.
“A lot of my mentors kind of were disappointed and judged me,” Lopez said, “but Ann was disappointed. At the same time, she spoke to me and told me this is just another obstacle you can overcome,” Lopez said.
During the week students like Lopez go to various schools where they tutor students, make crafts and build relationships.
During the weekend students help organize the pantry, apply for scholarships and during the holiday season pass out turkeys and gifts for children.
With the love pouring out her eyes and a smile on her face, Elms talks about Lopez and becoming teen mothers.
“Just because you have a child doesn’t mean that you can’t get an education; in fact, you need one even more,” Elms said.
Elms doesn’t just go through the obstacles of her students. She also went through an obstacle of her own in May of 2009.
While camping and judging motorcycle races in Oklahoma, Elms suffered a stroke. Turning to her husband with a pale look on her face, she was with her husband Steve and knew that he had to get her to a hospital quickly.
Elms suffered memory loss and had to go to therapy for a couple of months. However, she went back to work around December. Upon returning to work part time Elms realized that she still had to take some time off to recover.
“It was real discouraging,” Elms said. “And so all of a sudden, I was sick. I was really sick, and I was determined I was going to get better.”
While in therapy Elms had to quickly give up smoking and suffered trying to get through it. During that time her husband was still smoking so he eventually quit helping her. Both Elms and Steve are now cigarette-free for over a year.
Throughout Elms recovery one of the students who would still attend NICA is senior business management major, Brenda Salinas from Texas Wesleyan.
“She [Elms] was very pushy to get things done, and she influences you in a way you don’t expect,” Salinas said.
Salinas who started the program at NICA in 2008 continued the program until she graduated until 2010 and earned about $3,000 for school. Among earning money for school she also worked at Carnival food store and applied for scholarships on Saturdays at NICA.
While recounting the story of Salinas who now has her sister in the Circle of Winner program Elms starts to say what she hopes for all her students.
Elms says that all she wants from her students is for them be happy and have one or two pieces of papers (diplomas) in their hands.
On Sept. 17 she will be starting to work with the youth again since her stroke. You could see the spark come of out her hands when she was explaining how excited she was.
Part of that excitement comes from her struggles in life.
“When you almost lose it like that [her stroke], you appreciate life more,” she said.