DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Yolanda Domingo recently received $5,000 from the AARP Foundation's first Women's Scholarship Program. Domingo, shown with the computer she purchased with the money and her pet dog Batches, had a heart transplant eight years ago and was recently diagnosed with breast cancer but has continued her studies at Leeward Community College and the University of Hawaii-West Oahu. She uses the computer to take online courses and also bought a tape recorder for lectures.
Women get AARP grants
Two medical crises have not stopped 49-year-old Yolanda Domingo of Pearl City from pursuing a college degree.
Ten years ago she was told she had only one year to live because of an enlarged heart. Two years later she beat the prediction and had a heart transplant in 2000, on Mother's Day.
"My focus is to be a social worker in the transplant field. I want to work with patients and their families."
Yolanda Domingo / Beneficiary of the AARP Foundation's Women's Scholarship Program
Recently, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Throughout those problems, she earned an associate degree from Leeward Community College, and hopes to get her bachelor's degree at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu in two years.
"My focus is to be a social worker in the transplant field," she said. "I want to work with patients and their families."
Domingo is one of three Hawaii women benefiting from the AARP Foundation's first Women's Scholarship Program. The others are Mattie K. Kukaliko-Kaeo, 65, of Kula, Maui, and Lisa McDown, 49, of Koloa, Kauai.
The foundation awarded $225,000 nationally to women 40 and older who are seeking new job skills, training and educational opportunities to support themselves and their families. The scholarships ranged from $500 to $5,000 depending on need and the cost of the program.
Domingo said she received $5,000, which enabled her to buy a computer and take online courses. "I've been taking notes, writing on a tablet," she said. "Your fingers get numb." She also got a tape recorder for lectures.
Domingo's husband, Blane, formerly a forklift driver, has a disability, and they live on Social Security disability insurance. They have three grown children and six grandchildren. "My grandkids make sure I do my homework," she said.
"My life has been a great journey," she said, explaining she started college six months after her heart transplant, earning an associate degree in six years.
Kukaliko-Kaeo, 65, expects to get a bachelor's degree next May. She wants to be a substitute teacher in a Hawaiian immersion school and share her expertise as a kupuna.
"I'm proud to say I graduated from Waimanalo Intermediate, Class of 1957," she said. "I'd sure like to get hold of my classmates."
But it has been a long struggle for her since ninth grade. She tried to complete her high school education but got married at age 16 and "kept getting pregnant." She has seven children, a foster child, 20 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Two of her three husbands died.
She legally adopted her late son's two children, ages 9 and 12, and worked nights at a service station to care for the children. They were homeless for a while until she received Hawaiian homestead land. Habitat for Humanity built the home, and she moved in with family members in 2004.
She said her children and friends encouraged her to pursue a college degree: "It's a desire I've had all my life."
She attended Windward Community College, Brigham Young University and Maui Community College. She earned an associate degree and needs six more classes for a bachelor's.
McDown, separated 12 years from her husband, has three children, now ages 15, 18 and 22. She could not be reached for an interview but told AARP she returned to school in 2004 and was among the graduates this May, earning a bachelor's degree. She will use her AARP scholarship to pursue a master's degree.
She has been working as a special-education assistant and counseling aide and wants to be a teacher specializing in educational technology.
The idea of school was "scary," she told AARP, "but you have to go to school to break out of the poverty cycle."
Although she was working hard, she and her children became homeless after her separation and lived for two years with different families.
A coach's family adopted her family, which made it possible for her to return to school, McDown said. She and her son took a college English 100 class together when he was a high school senior. She was the oldest student and he was the youngest.