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McHana Sword, who goes by Hana, is a junior from Floyd County, Kentucky, majoring in English.  However, she is much more than just a student. Hana epitomizes the belief that if you get knocked down, you get back up, dust yourself off, and continue on your chosen path.  As a teenager, due to circumstances beyond her control, she was forced to become an independent student; saying she lost “…everything I had ever owned; I only had the clothes on my back!” For many, this would be the end of their journey. However, Hana persevered and overcame.

Being independent means that Hana has worries beyond focusing on her classes and studying. She says, “As an independent student, it can be quite a struggle to focus on school since I have so much to worry about at home, making sure that I have a place to go home, to and food on the table for my grandmother and me.” This is where ALC has made the greatest impact on this young person’s life. When Hana was considering what to do after high school, she was worried that she would not be able to pursue her dream because of her financial situation.  However, through ALC’s Appalachian Leaders College Scholarship, Student Work Program, and other financial assistance, Hana has the opportunity to pursue her dreams.

Hana’s dream is to help young children with autism by becoming an Applied Behavior Therapist and opening a fully functioning Autism center in her community. Her dream is inspired by her friend John, whom she has known since the 2nd grade. He has lived with Autism and the challenges of obtaining proper treatment for over 15 years. Hana explained, “His family had to travel many hours just for him to seek treatment. Long car rides back and forth to different buildings is not easy for anyone on the Autism spectrum because of the struggle they have with new people and places.” Early on, she saw the emotional, physical, and financial struggles that this caused his family. Also, through her relationship with him, over time she met more families that were facing these same struggles because the nearest facility to provide the services was in Lexington, Kentucky, a two to three-hour trip for most of these families.

Hana’s goal is to bring an all-inclusive building to the region consisting of ABA therapy, speech pathology, schooling, and primary care. As well as anything else a client may need to develop the skills needed to achieve the highest quality of life. In doing this, Hana will be continuing the legacy of many of ALC’s alumni by providing the services and skills that the region has been lacking. This dream has driven Hana to go to school while working a part-time job on the weekends in order to support herself.

When discussing her time at ALC, Hana stated that she has been humbled by the generosity of the donors that support the College. These are people that may have never seen the school, or even been in Appalachia. However, they see the results their donations make as year after year ALC graduates return to the region to help make it better for their fellow Appalachians. She knows that in the future she will be able to repay the investments made in her many times over. Perhaps not in the monetary value but in the lives of the people that she will impact.