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Ruskin High senior surprised with full-ride scholarship to Avila University

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Three weeks ago it started out as just a normal day at Ruskin High School for Helen Cadena.

However, in a blink of an eye, Helen got the surprise of her life from her teacher.

"I was just sitting there, and all of a sudden he said, 'It's my pleasure to present to you the Grow Your Own Scholarship.' I just screamed, 'I got it?' He then said 'Yes and congratulations!'" Helen recalled.

The 17-year-old was instantly stunned and all smiles as she walked up to receive her big win: a tuition-free, full-ride, four-year scholarship to Avila University.

"Man, it's just so amazing. It's super exciting. I am so happy," Helen told FOX4's Robert Townsend.

Helen really is an impressive student. She has a 3.0 grade point average. She's on the Student Council at Ruskin High, the A-Plus Team and she's also a College Ambassador.

Helen Cadena

Her 10-year-old brother was diagnosed with autism when he was just five years old.

Emerson's challenges inspired his big sister to enroll in a unique class this year through the Grow Your Teaching Program. It's a two-year-old pilot program that allowed Helen to gain college credits, cultivate her interests in teaching and apply for the Avila scholarship.

"It was really just because it's what I like to do," Helen said.

Her ultimate dream: become a special education teacher.

"What I really want to focus on is building a relationship with kids with special needs, but also with their parents because the parents are equally struggling," she said. "I also would like to ultimately start a program where I can start having a therapy dog in classrooms just because it's helpful if a kid should ever have a break down or something."

Helen is just one of two students from around the entire metro area who will receive the Grow Your Own Scholarship to Avila University in the fall. Her mom is also thrilled about her daughter's accomplishments.

"It's through all of her hard work, and she's an amazing child. I'm extremely proud of her. She has become my why and my reason in pushing me forward. She's my cheerleader just like I am with her," said Helen's mother, Jessica Stoffer.

As part of her scholarship deal, after she graduates from Avila University with her education degree, Helen must return to the Hickman Mills School District and teach for at least three years.

"This is my second year at Ruskin High, but like they've given me so much in the two short years I've been here. I'd rather work here for a lifetime and give back. I think I can make a difference," Helen said.

"It's very, very exciting for me, especially for our students because really they're the ones who are gonna benefit from her coming back to work in the community," said Carri Moutray, Helen's teacher.

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