McKenzie “Mac” Lagestee
Trinity Christian College
McGraw Emergency Financial Aid Fund

2020 has been a difficult year for McKenzie “Mac” Lagestee. Earlier this year, her husband was called to a two-year military deployment at sea. But the pandemic forced him and his unit back to the United States, to the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) in Miramar, California. Soon after, a COVID-19 outbreak forced some 1,000 cruise ship passengers to be quarantined at the MCAS facility, and Lagestee’s husband got sick with COVID-19 while helping deliver food and supplies to the quarantined passengers. In Illinois, Lagestee, a student majoring in nursing at Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, Illinois, was laid off from her job.

Lagestee was at Trinity Christian College, in part, because family members had attended the college previously. She began her college years as a marine biology major because she liked the ocean and scuba diving. “I actually quit school for a while and moved to Hawaii for two years and became a dive instructor and tour guide on Oahu,” she says. As much as she liked the ocean, Lagestee realized marine biology wasn’t the best career path for her. So, she returned to Trinity Christian, focused on biochemistry, and then nursing. Plus, Trinity Christian College is a top Illinois school for nursing.

“My main goal is to become a pediatric oncology nurse,” says Lagestee, now junior at Trinity Christian. “I definitely want to work in a pediatric hospital for a while. But right out of nursing school, I was thinking about doing travel nursing for a year to pay off student loans.” Such an experience would give her a chance to learn about different cultures, while practicing nursing. Things were going well in clinicals earlier this year, too. “I felt very confident. I enjoyed it. I was so excited when I got back from that first day of clinicals,” she says.

But then the pandemic hit. Her husband was sick, and Lagestee was out of work. It was critical that she remain in school to continue in the nursing program. She needed financial help and applied for a COVID-19 emergency student grant from Trinity, and was awarded a grant from the McGraw Emergency Financial Aid Fund, through ACI. The McGraw grant and other financial support she earned made a big difference, she says. “If I and other didn’t have that I probably would have had to take the year off,” Lagestee says. “There was no guarantee that if I did do that I would get a position in the nursing program next year.”

Lagestee’s husband is now recovered and is still deployed. This fall, she is living on campus at Trinity Christian College, a helpful step because she wants to limit the possibility of making her mother sick from the coronavirus. She is also working again as a caregiver, helping a specific client on weekends.

Lagestee is grateful for the help she got a critical time from Trinity Christian College, ACI and the McGraw Foundation, and donors. “I just wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for your donation. I wouldn’t be able to become a nurse and help take care of others which is my pride, and I’m so excited to be able to do. And because of you, I’m able to go through this journey and provide Christ-like service to people in need,” she says.

Aileen Duran
University of St. Francis
ACI General Scholarship

Aileen Duran remembers growing up with various health-related problems and feeling as though few people were listening to her health concerns. “I’ve had two surgeries now to fix my knees,” Duran said. “I wonder if this could have been avoided if people listened to me. I want to go into the health-care field so that others don’t have to go through what I did.” That is exactly what Duran has done. Today, she is a sophomore majoring in nursing at the University of St. Francis (USF) in Joliet.

Duran is one of three sisters who grew up in Chicago, the children of parents with roots in Mexico. She applied to more than 20 colleges and universities before deciding on USF, she said. “I really liked St. Francis’ nursing program,” Duran said. It was the passing rates on nursing licensure exams, up-to-date technology and simulations labs that convinced her.

Duran sees herself working as a surgical nurse or possibly for a government agency, such as the FBI. The FBI? Duran explained a family member works in the agency, and using her nursing degree for a career as a forensic scientist is an attractive idea, she says.

Along with her interests in health care, Duran is a musician. She attended the Chicago High School for the Arts and plays the oboe. Duran currently plays in a chamber group with the Joliet Symphony Orchestra. She also has learned how to play the saxophone and plays with university’s pep band.

One of Duran’s goals for this academic year was to live on campus and avoid commuting, if possible. Because of her heavy class load, which helps qualify her for scholarships and grants, living on the Joliet campus would be a great help, she said. Duran learned of the ACI General Scholarship through discussions with a financial aid counselor. “As soon as that meeting ended I instantly went to apply. When I found out I got it, I was very, very happy, ” Duran said.

“That scholarship is what helped me come back to on-campus living,” she said. “We’re able to use that toward other things so we can save the money we have to living on campus, which was very vital to me.”

“Coming from a low income, minority family, immigrant family, it really is hard to get the funds to go to college,’ Duran added. “It means so much just to be able to return this year and be able to be here right now.  I really can’t emphasize enough the impact it has made on me and my family. It’s a blessing.”

In addition to the Joliet orchestra and the pep band, Duran is a member of USF’s Latino Honor Society and Latino Club.

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