Student’s path steadies with help from Clark

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Penguin Pantry key to Sugar-Star’s academic success

By Nik Tidwell

The obstacles Channell Sugar-Star has faced could have left her addicted, homeless and facing a lifetime of poverty. Instead, she found Clark College, and its new academic makeover, called guided pathways is the catalyst helping her stay on a path to a college education.

Sugar-Star was born in Auburn, Wash., a quaint city in King County. At an early age, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and passed away when Sugar-Star was four years old. Before her mother’s death, Sugar-Star was in foster care then later moved to California with her grandfather and his wife. It was while living in California that Sugar-Star experienced traumatic abuse. At the age of 10, her family relocated to Oregon. It was at the end of her high school experience when Sugar-Star said she “went rogue for a while.” Following abuse at the hands of her grandfather’s wife, Sugar-Star, turned to drugs and eventually became homeless.

“I have severe post-traumatic stress disorder today from the abuse that happened from my grandfather’s wife, and to numb the pain, I found other ways,” said Sugar-Star. From ages 19 to 32, she struggled to stop taking drugs. She would get clean for a while, only to fall back into the spiral of addiction.

“There were a few times I got sober; each time that happened, I learned a little bit more and more,” said Sugar-Star.

During one of those incremental periods of sobriety, Sugar-Star’s high school sweetheart from Oregon gave birth to their son. Sugar-Star was 23 years old. The birth kept her clean from drugs for a while, as did the relationships she developed with people she connected with in drug treatment.

“Basically, they’d come into the treatment center and they’d say ‘I just bought a house,’ or ‘I just bought a brand new truck’…all the physical things are great, but the stuff that comes on the inside like the connections and relationships you can have with other people, that wouldn’t have happened if I was still getting loaded,” said Sugar-Star.

Finally, she committed to staying sober for her son, and ultimately, for herself. Along with committing to sobriety, Sugar-Star discovered Clark College.

Today, Sugar-Star is 34 and sober. She is pursuing an associate degree with aspirations of becoming a chemical dependency practitioner to help people who struggle with addiction. One aspect of Clark that has supported her along her path is the Penguin Pantry—Clark’s food bank­­.

Sugar-Star says she cannot afford college, let alone everyday necessities, without Clark’s assistance. It is at the Penguin Pantry where she gets groceries, school supplies and hygiene products she otherwise would not be able to afford. Because Penguin Pantry supplies most of her grocery needs, Sugar-Star has saved enough money to rent an apartment. Sugar-Star is also the recipient of two scholarships through Clark College Foundation, the Sharon M Keilbarth Memorial Scholarship and the E. Gayle Dailey Rubin Scholarship. Receiving these scholarships enables her to attend college without having to rely on student loans. She even purchased a cellphone and laptop to do her homework.

Sugar-Star’s aspirations go beyond an associate degree. She expects to earn a bachelor’s and is considering a graduate degree. Meanwhile, she focuses on her path at Clark, diligently working toward accomplishing her full potential. She is happy to call herself a Penguin and is optimistic about the future.

“It has been a great feeling to be a student,” said Sugar-Star. “Now I’m quite literally financially stable for now until I get my career.”


Nik Tidwell is the acting associate director of annual giving and sponsorships for Clark College Foundation

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