(from left to right) Lashyra Nolen, Thomas Watkins, and Lorissa Payne
LOS ANGELES, CA- What does it take to be a leader? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great orator, Muhammad Ali was a fighter in and out of the ring, and aviator Bessie Coleman was as determined as they come. One thing they had in common was their affinity for leadership which was apparent at an early age. Today, three stellar scholars from Ronald McDonald House Charities®/African American Future Achievers (RMHC/AAFA) scholarship program are emerging as young leaders in their communities and on their college campuses as well. The scholarship program is hosted locally by Ronald McDonald House Charities® of Southern California (RMHCSC) and supported by the fundraising efforts of local McDonald’s owner/operators and corporate staff. Each of these students have drawn inspiration from leaders of the past, while they start to build their own ideas of what it takes to become a leader today.
LaShyra Nolen, a sophomore Health and Human Science major at Loyola Marymont University (LMU), believes being a leader means being bold and being prepared to act so the voices you serve are heard. She plans to do just that as a Clinton Global Initiative Student innovator, a program that provides support for undergraduate students who are developing new solutions to the world’s most pressing issues. Her plan is to create a five-week health program in the Riverside and San Bernardino communities that help families set healthy trends.
Nolen says the RMHC/AAFA program gave her confidence. “The fact that such an organization saw me fit to represent them showed me that I have people who believe in me,” says Nolen. “I asked myself, why can’t I be successful and do well in college too?” Doing “well” is an understatement for Nolen who serves her campus as a student senator, resident hall advisor, and member of LMU’s Belles Service Organization.
The aspiring doctor, who is from Rancho Cucamonga, says her drive and passion for her community was inspired by her mother. She received two college degrees while taking care of Nolen and her little brother as a single mother. “Everything I am doing all goes back to giving back and using my strength to help others.”
Thomas Watkins was selected as a RMHC/AAFA recipient in 2013 and has since partnered with RMHCSC to talk with students about reaching their goals and the importance of pursuing college. A Corona native majoring in Hotel and Restaurant Management at California Polytechnic State University in Pomona, Watkins believes a leader has to know how to command attention through communication. “A leader could be anyone, from any walk of life,” says Watkins. “They could talk to the CEO of a company, and also connect with a kindergartener with no problem.”
As an aspiring restauranteur, Watkins hopes to continue connecting with his community. He believes food is the one thing that can put a smile on anyone’s face. “I want to help my community by creating programs that teach kids how to cook as an outlet for them,” he says.
Biola University student, Lorissa Payne, began thinking of ways she could become a leader in high school. The freshman English major noticed she had the gift of writing and challenged herself by taking advanced placement classes which led her to be selected to the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola. The institute spurs students to take a deeper dive into Western literature and aims to build strong, Christian leaders.
“Writing is a primary form of communication and if students can’t express themselves through writing, it is a detriment to one’s future,” says Payne. She aspires to work in education and believes leadership is all about leading by example. “When others see a living example of a leader, it allows them to think they can succeed too,” she says. She calls former United States Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice her living example. “Reading her biography in high school made me realize we were raised similarly, says Payne. “Her story showed me when people utilize their gifts to help others; they can go much further in life.”
Nolen, Watkins, and Payne are just a few of the 109 students identified each year through the RMHCSC scholarship program. Since 1990, RMHCSC has awarded more than $4.5 million in scholarship funds to local students. It allows students the opportunity to think about their future, makes college attainable and helps students inspire others. Scholarships are awarded through four programs, including: RMHC /AAFA, RMHC/Asian Pacific American Students Increasing Achievement (ASIA), RMHC/Hispanic American Commitment to Educational Resources (HACER) and RMHC/Scholars.
For more than 35 years, RMHCSC has been committed to providing comfort, care and support to children and families in Southern California. RMHCSC is dedicated to creating a community where children and their families embrace life and healing with a sense of hope, enthusiasm, courage and joy by operating six Ronald McDonald Houses, Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times, two Ronald McDonald Family Rooms and a Community Grants Board. This year, another 109 student scholars and future leaders from across Southern California will be celebrated during the annual RMHCSC scholarship luncheon that will take place in May.