KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – About sixteen years ago, Carrie Walters was a senior at Concord High School and postponed attending college when she found out she was pregnant. This week, Walters, now 33, is beginning her first semester at Charlotte School of Law.
And while the road to becoming a law school student has not been easy, Walters said she has no regrets.
“Every obstacle I came across made me who I am today,” she said. “I’ve been through a lot, but I wouldn’t be the way I am today (without those experiences), so I wouldn’t change anything.”
Walters said she went from rolling pennies to buy bologna and bread to currently living paycheck to paycheck but having a comfortable life with her husband, Darin, and children in Kannapolis.
“I don’t want my kids to live paycheck to paycheck…I want to provide them that cushion,” Walters said.
Providing a better life for her daughters Alexis, 16, and Kailah Bradshaw, 14, is just one of the reasons Walters wants to become an attorney.
“I always wanted to be an attorney but figured when I got pregnant that I would not go to college,” Walters said.
Walters, a Cabarrus County native, grew up living in government housing, she said. She graduated from high school, and when she turned 18 years old, Walters moved out and lived with her newborn baby in government housing.
“We went through the system and used the resources to help you get ahead and established and on your feet,” Walters said.
She was married to but later divorced her daughters’ father, whom she said has not been very involved in their lives.
When Walters decided to earn her associate degree, she said it was to make herself feel better. She began taking classes at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College before transferring to Central Piedmont Community College to work toward becoming a paralegal.
She took classes online, completing her coursework at night and working full-time, all while raising her daughters. Walters graduated and earned her associate degree in 2006.
In 2005, she began working as a paralegal for a family law attorney in Statesville, N.C. She said she had always wanted to be involved in the legal system, and being a paralegal was a stepping stone.
Walters also volunteered as a Guardian ad Litem in Iredell County, serving as an advocate in court for abused and neglected children.
The attorney she worked for encouraged her to get her bachelor’s degree, and in 2008, Walters enrolled at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She majored in communications and minored in criminal justice.
As she prepared for her final semester, the fall of 2012, Walters found out she had reached the limit of what she could receive in Pell Grants.
She began to frantically look for other financial aid options.
While looking on UNC Charlotte’s financial aid website, Walters found information about Andersen Nontraditional Scholarship for Women’s Education and Retraining (ANSWER) Scholarship Endowment. ANSWER provides assistance for women 25 and older who are raising school-age children and working toward a college degree.
Walters filled out an application, went for an interview and committed to the ANSWER’s contract of meeting once a month for mentoring.
The group requires that its recipients have contact with their assigned mentor, someone who has also gone back to school as an adult, typically while also raising children, said founder Susan Andersen.
Recipients also attend meetings where speakers talk about subjects like handling finances and time management.
Walters received a scholarship of about $2,200 from ANSWER and was able to complete her last semester and earn her bachelor’s degree in December 2012.
Andersen said Walters was so deserving of the scholarship because of her “standout personality.”
In addition to the challenges she has overcome, Andersen said the fact that Walters volunteered as a Guardian ad Litem while raising children and going to school made her stood out.
“That’s the type of woman we look for, who goes above and beyond…If I was going through a divorce, I would definitely want Carrie as my attorney,” Andersen said. “That woman is no nonsense. You would want her on your team.”
Walters’s mentor, Angela McIlveen, must have agreed. In the fall, McIlveen, a partner at McIlveen Family Law Firm in Charlotte and Gastonia, N.C., offered Walters a job there as a paralegal. Walters will work there part-time while enrolled in law school.
“It was a blessing I didn’t get the Pell Grant because it led me to ANSWER…It has led to so many things,” Walters said.
Tuesday marked another new beginning, as Walters attended her first day of classes in law school. As a future attorney, she said she would like to pursue a career in family law and juvenile law.
“I like being the hand holder and making a difference,” Walters said.
She is expected to graduate in 2015, the same year her daughter Alexis will graduate from high school.
Walters hopes her daughters will also want to get their college degrees.
“That’s my goal, for them to get through college,” Walters said. “School will ultimately get you to everything you need...I don’t want them to stop going to school because we can’t afford it.”
Even though Walters is just beginning law school, she said she already feels satisfied that she can accomplish her goals, regardless of what happens in life.
“What doesn't kill you makes you stronger,” Walters said. “That’s my motto…Even though I haven’t (graduated from law school yet) it’s still a great feeling to know I've gotten this far.”
Contact reporter Jessica Groover Pacek: 704-789-9152