2019 Goodwill Scholar of the Year: Belinda Luangouthavong

“There were so many people who said I would never do anything, be anything. Well, look at me now!”

When Belinda became a mother at the age of 15, she planned to go back to school. But, with the demands of raising a child and little support from family, she never made that happen.

She later married and her husband provided for her, but discouraged her from completing her education. She spent 12 years in an abusive marriage, wanting to do more, but didn’t have the courage to exert her independence – until she did – and it cost her everything.

She left her abuser and moved from New York back to Wichita in 2017 with nothing – even leaving her two young children as the law required. She faced depression and was suicidal. For a year, she worked to rebuild – working to find suitable housing, a job, and a path to independence. She knew she needed something else for her and her children. In 2018, her children came home to her.

Her cousin told her about NexStep and she began taking classes to complete her GED. She was accepted into the Accelerated Opportunities – Kansas program which allowed her to be the first in her family to graduate college and help her learn the skill of CNC Machining at WSU Tech; something she never thought she could afford, much less succeed.

It wasn’t easy. Many times, she wanted to quit. Twice, she withdrew. But the support of the NexStep certified instructors and staff, along with her sheer determination, allowed her to graduate from NexStep in May 2019 with her certification from WSU Tech. She is currently employed as a CNC Machine Operator for Max Aerostructures in Wichita and is raising her two younger children. Her oldest son, now 17, is enrolled at NexStep Alliance. “I knew if I can do it, so can he,” said Belinda. “They are really good here, and I know he can do it now instead of waiting like I did.”