September Extraordinary Leader: A Picture of Perseverance and Strength

Ariel Hodges

Ariel HodgesAriel Hodges hated the drive.

She’d get up way before sunrise, get in her red Toyota Corolla she nicknamed “Rosetta” and drive an hour north to make it to her 7:50 a.m. class at HPU.

She had to. Last spring, she stayed home and went to school part-time because she wanted to help her mom, Sonya. She had breast cancer.

Hodges is one serious student. But she worried she couldn’t do it – take two classes and help her mom with everything. But with HPU’s help, she did.

She’ll now graduate on time with her class next spring. She’ll receive a degree in psychology and finish an undergraduate career with four internships and a litany of accomplishments.

That includes this one: She is HPU’s Extraordinary Leader for the month of September.

But her biggest accomplishment could be what she did for her mom – and for her.

Ariel Hodges grew up.

 

‘Ari’ to the Rescue

Hodges always saw her mom as the optimistic one. This time, though, she saw something in her mother’s face last fall.

Hodges found her mom standing in the kitchen, her face empty of emotion. She looked up, saw her only daughter, her oldest child, took a deep breath and said, “I have to talk to you.”

They walked upstairs, sat on Hodges’ bed and held hands. Her mom delivered the news. Everything else is a blur.

The emotion. The conversation. The everything. The one thing Hodges does remember is her one thought: “I need to figure out how to be here for her.”

ariel-hodges-mom-2Her mom was her confidante, her best friend. Every Friday night, they’d go out to eat in their hometown of Concord, North Carolina, and pile into bed afterward to watch the latest movie on TV.

They’ve been like that since high school. Hodges remembers when she first felt it. When she’d be upset over something, her mom would always sing to the little girl she called “Ari.”

Sweet Ari,
Won’t you be mine?
Sweet love for a lifetime.
I’ll be there
When you need me,
Just call and receive me.

That always helped. But now Hodges had to help her mom.

Could she?

 

HPU’s Network of Support

Hodges already was some kind of responsible.

At HPU, she has been a Student Justice for three years and a Hearing Chair for the student court for the past two. She has worked with the Campus Concierge since she was a sophomore, and she has become one of the school’s recognizable faces to any visitor, any student on campus.

She made the dean’s list every semester, and she did so well in academics she was the recipient of the HPU Student Achievement Grant, the Trustee Scholarship and the Robert and Mary Ennis Scholarship.

Meanwhile, she helped train a lemur named Roscoe.

Two summers ago, she worked with HPU’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Works program. She helped Dr. Joanne Altman with her cognitive research on lemurs by doing a sorting-card game with Roscoe at the Greensboro Science Center.

Yet, last fall, Hodges knew she had to be even more responsible. She had to become her mom’s caregiver – and stay in school.

That’s where HPU stepped in.

Her advisor Dr. Greggory Hundt, chair of HPU’s Department of Psychology, eased her angst by helping her create a doable schedule. Dr. Hundt had her take classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays so she could help her mom on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Dr. Tara Shollenberger, HPU’s director of student conduct, allowed Hodges to take a break as a Student Justice for a semester and guaranteed her a spot whenever she returned.

“My door is open if you need anything,” Dr. Shollenberger told her.

Alisha Richardson

Alisha Richardson

Her supervisors with Campus Concierge allowed her to keep her campus job. Alisha Richardson, a Concierge supervisor, had Hodges work on Tuesdays and Thursdays between her classes at 7:50 in the morning and 1:30 in the afternoon.

Richardson also went a step further. She lives nearby in Winston-Salem, and she offered Hodges a place to stay if the weather got too bad or the drive home became too tough.

Meanwhile, Richardson gave Hodges a listening ear. Richardson is close with her mom, and she knew the emotional turmoil Hodges faced. So, Richardson gave Hodges a tangible emotional outlet: a journal in which to write her thoughts.

“I wanted her to know that people cared about her,” Richardson says today. “I told her, ‘I’ll listen to you as long as you have something to say.’”

Hodges did. Richardson listened. They cried together.

 

ariel-hodges-mom

Hodges and her mom, Sonya

The Health of Mom, The Wealth of HPU   

Hodges is better. And so is her mom.

Her mom’s cancer is in remission, and Hodges feels she’s in a better place.

This summer, four days after her 21st birthday, she got baptized at a Jehovah’s Witnesses convention in Winston-Salem. Her mom was right there. Her mom was working toward being a Jehovah’s Witness when she was pregnant with her daughter.

Now, her daughter is a Jehovah’s Witness. Life for them has come full circle.

And life continues to offer its rewards. Hodges finds it in the notes she still gets from her mom. Hodges first starting finding notes from her mom in her lunch box in middle school. Now, she finds them in care packages mailed from home.

“I love you more than all the grains of sand in the world,” her mom wrote a few weeks back.

For Hodges, those notes never get old.

Ariel Hodges“It’s interesting how life works,” Hodges says. “My mom told me, ‘When you lose something, you gain something,’ and for me, I became much stronger in my faith. That was the driving force that kept me sane.”

HPU kept her sane, too.

“It’s not service level, it’s deep,” she says about HPU’s commitment to students. “People truly care, and you realize you can create those bonds with more than just your peers.

“If I were at a larger college, I don’t know how close you could get to your professors or how flexible they would be. But they are here, and I knew I needed all the support I could get.”

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