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Jacoby award nominee beats odds to graduate

Success started around a campfire for 2014 graduate Ursula Angel.
Summer Hall / Mainstream
Success started around a campfire for 2014 graduate Ursula Angel.

Commencement will be a pinnacle in many students’ lives, but few have faced as many challenges as Human Services student Ursula Angel. For Angel, UCC has been a journey from homelessness to a life of helping others.

Angel has gone through many adversities in her life. In her mid-twenties after an abusive relationship, she found herself living in a campground. During this time, she wrote a brief poem called “Campfire” which inspired her through her darkest days.

“I was homeless for a number of years. I wrote this poem when I was living in the woods,” Angel says. “You feel like you don’t have any real worth inside. You start believing that you are the victim.”

Angel recites the poem that she says helped shape her into the woman she is today: “Campfire is my reading lamp, my heater and my stove. Sometimes I do wonder where this road leads that I chose.  But as the morning sun approaches, I realize my dream. Step by step as courage builds, the easier it seems.”

Having only the possessions she could carry, Angel had hit the lowest point in her life but never gave up faith that, one day, her life would be different. “You have to make a choice. It’s not always a choice that you can make at that time, but you have to believe you have a future.”

As a 25-year-old woman sitting in the woods warming her hands over a camp fire, Angel never imagined that someday she would be preparing to walk across the stage as a college graduate.

“I made a change. It took me a long, long time,” Angel says.

As Angel started as a UCC student, she was inspired by the support she received on campus to excel. “I got so much support from this school. The teachers, the staff, even the two Brendas in the cafeteria and the students -- so much support,” Angel says.

According to Angel, she would not be who she is today without the help she has received as a student at UCC.

Angel’s experiences being homeless give her a perspective that is unique, according to Caroline Hopkins, an advising specialist for the TOP program. “Ursula’s compassion is unprecedented, and what I see in her [that] is so rare and so vital is the ability to understand people and identify value in humanity when the majority of society doesn’t,” Hopkins said. 

Angel is always eager to help out anyone in need, according to Hopkins. “She is a caretaker for a schizophrenic man with cancer whose family abandoned him. She has taken people in homeless camps back and forth into town to receive services when their peers had written them off due to untreated mental illness,” Hopkins said.

Angel will continue taking classes through Oregon State University in hopes of obtaining her bachelor’s degree in Human Services, and she hopes to continue helping people as a career.

“I want to take my education and my compassion and bring it to Douglas County and use it in a way to help people in this county. I feel this county really needs support. I have a dream to be involved with the TOP program to help uplifting, empowering and inspiring students,” Angel said.

Angel was honored as the 2013-2014 Outstanding Human Services student.

“I was so honored that my educators and women in my Human Services class thought I was worthy of this award,” Angel says.

Angel was also nominated by Hopkins for the Jacoby Award.

 Angel has been genuinely involved with Hopkin and the TOP program during her time here at UCC. “Whether Ursula knows it or not, she is a mentor for our program and is a person we will continue to contact as we support future generations of TOP students on their educational journeys,” Hopkins said.

Angel prepared a proposal to find a larger space for TOP to meet, since, according to Angel, the current place isn’t large enough. She also planned a Memorial Day family fun day for the TOP/TRIO students.

Angel is soon to be a college graduate, but, as she says, “I’m still that girl by the campfire. Out of the ashes of destruction come the roses of success. Once you have been at the bottom of the bottom, every small step is a success.”