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story.lead_photo.caption Alvin Hiram, 19, works with his stomp dance group Wednesday at Sonora Elementary School in Springdale. - Photo by J.T. Wampler

SPRINGDALE -- The same community that rallied behind Alvin Hiram years ago during his bout with cancer is supporting him again, this time in hopes of propelling him toward a medical career.

Hiram, who moved to Springdale with his family from the Marshall Islands in 2006, was diagnosed with leukemia on Christmas Eve of 2010, when he was a fifth-grader at Lee Elementary School.

"I didn't even know what cancer was," Hiram said. "I thought it was no big deal, like some kind of flu. But next thing I knew, it was a really big deal."

Lee staff members, determined to make a difference, organized "Alvin's Army" and sold green wristbands to help pay his medical expenses. Hiram beat the disease and was declared cancer-free four years later.

Hiram, 19, graduated from Springdale High School in May and went to work for the School District in August. He splits his time equally between Jones and Sonora elementary schools, where he serves as a parent liaison and mentor to Marshallese students. The two schools serve dozens of Marshallese students.

Sonora Elementary has had an increase in Marshallese students' engagement in school and their academic performance since Hiram was hired, according to Regina Stewman, the school's principal.

"He's a positive role model for a lot of these kids, as someone who has gone through the system," Stewman said.

Melissa Fink, principal of Jones Elementary, said she's very impressed with him.

"He has a very kind, sweet spirit," Fink said. "He interacts well with our children and our parents. He wants to do good in this world."

MEDICALLY MINDED

Hiram recently got a call from Blue Cliff College, a for-profit career and technical school based in Louisiana with campuses in Fayetteville. He believes the call stemmed from interest he expressed at a college fair during high school.

The college offers a 15-month program that would allow him to enter the medical field as a medical assistant. His experience with cancer inspired him years ago to seek such a career.

"That's always been in my heart since I came out of treatment," he said.

A significant financial barrier blocked his path, however.

Marshall Islands citizens, although they are entitled to travel and apply for admission to the United States without visas, are not citizens or nationals of the United States. The only type of federal financial student aid they qualify for is a Pell grant, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Blue Cliff lists on its website the cost of its medical assisting program's tuition, supplies and fees as $15,881.

Hiram obtained a Pell grant, but that still left him needing $8,263 to pay Blue Cliff's tuition. He lives with his parents and three siblings, and is paying most of the family's bills because an injury is keeping his father out of work.

Hiram was resigned to the idea of picking up a second job at night to help pay for his education, but that would mean missing the start of the program on Jan. 7 and postponing his dream.

Stewman, Hiram's supervisor at Sonora, has known him a long time. She was principal of Lee Elementary during Hiram's illness. She admires him for what she calls his "servant's heart" and his dedication to his family. Stewman wanted to help him get an education that someday would allow him to provide more for his family.

"My thought was, what if Alvin's Army came back together, re-enlisted, and we could get this funded as a Christmas gift to Alvin, and make it a much better Christmas than he had in 2010," Stewman said.

She stressed Hiram never asked for any such help. She also said she is well aware others in the community could use the same kind of assistance.

"I'm not trying to compare it to any other person's battle or struggle of getting through school," Stewman said. "It's just something that I believe is laid upon my heart, and if I hadn't reached out and tried, I would have regretted it."

SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN

Stewman posted Hiram's story and a plea for donations on GoFundMe.com on Dec. 8. Sonora Elementary staff and students chipped in $800 through a jeans day for teachers and a hat day for students. By early last week, the fundraiser had brought in more than $3,700.

Stewman received a call Thursday informing her an anonymous donor would cover the remainder of Hiram's tuition. The GoFundMe account will remain open to support other costs associated with Hiram's education, such as books and a computer, she said.

Hiram plans to continue working for the schools during the day and attend classes at night.

Medical assistants in Arkansas make an average of $28,280 per year, according to MedicalAssistantDegrees.net.

Hiram isn't certain how far he wants to take his medical career; he wants to become a nurse and see how that goes, he said.

Hiram's mother, Carol, expressed gratitude to Stewman for her efforts, adding that, while she would love to financially support his efforts, she simply can't do it. Hiram translated for her as she spoke in Marshallese.

"We can never hold on to his dream and whatever he goes through, because that wouldn't be good parenting," she said. "We just like to let him go to whatever he desires, and whatever it is, we'll back him up no matter what, because we love him."

Hiram said he is deeply religious.

"Because I come from a family of religion, we really believe there's a God out there that watches over us. I think that's what really kept me going as well as just prayer, and having my mom praying with me every night as I went through this treatment. We grew a lot together. God is always the one thing that's always been there for us," he said.

Metro on 12/25/2018

Print Headline: Arkansans again rally for Marshallese student

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