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Memorial scholarship helps students help others

Date: 12/15/2008

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

Michael Hamblin of Worcester was a model child an honor student, an outdoorsman and a loving son and brother up until high school. At the age of 19, he went from a loving home to living on the streets of Boston, addicted to heroin.

He entered into numerous rehabilitation programs before being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in July 2005. On March 4, 2006, at the age of 23, Michael died at home with his family, unable to realize his dream of becoming a substance abuse counselor.

He wanted to earn his certification within the Addiction Counselor Education (ACE) program at Westfield State College (WSC). In honor of her brother, Melinda Hamblin founded a scholarship for WSC students within the ACE program in Michael's name. This year, Nafeeza Lexington of Hadley and Jeffrey Earls of Amherst each received a $1,000 Michael C. Hamblin Scholarship.

"It's our way to keep Michael's memory alive through the education of others," Michael's mother, Judy Hamblin of East Longmeadow, said. "This scholarship will help better the life of another young person and hopefully inspire others."

She attributed her son's desire to become an addiction counselor to his time spent at the Opportunity House in Springfield.

"Mikey was in many rehabs trying to get straight," Judy explained. "He said the Opportunity House was the only one that saw beyond the addiction. He said they saw him and gave him hope. He wanted to do that for others."

She said he was particularly concerned about rehabilitation of addicts fighting terminal illness.

"He started with pot, which I thought wasn't good, but I never thought it would lead to heroin," Judy recalled. "I need people to understand that this could happen to their child."

She explained that when Michael was kicked out of a Boston rehab she knew she had to stop permitting his habit. It was during this cold winter that Michael began living on the streets.

"I enabled it for a long time," Judy said. "I would take responsibility for his problems. I think every parent does when their kids fail in life ... I had to do the tough love thing ... [Addicts] have to hit bottom before they help themselves."

She explained that the stigma of drug addiction prevents opportunities for those wanting to better themselves and make it in the world. Judy said she hopes this scholarship will lend hope to those recipients who have struggled with addiction.

"[It's] a really incredible story to hear and [comforting] how dedicated [the Hamblins] are to future counselors," Lexington said. "It was an honor to get that [scholarship] from them."

Earls said he chose to become an addiction counselor because he "believes he can help people."

"The greatest part of this is the people who receive the [scholarship] money will be helping people with addiction problems and that will help Michael's legacy live on," he said.

Judy said she and her two daughters will continue the annual scholarship as long as there are those willing participate in the fundraising efforts.

Donations can be made by visiting the scholarship's Web site,