Teen sisters launch nonprofit to provide scholarships

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- They are not even old enough to go to college, but two Valley sisters are giving away money to help others go.

It is a lesson in giving, which these Valley teens learned early. One sister is in eighth grade, the other a junior in high school. They have already learned the value of an education, and they want to share that with others.

“So this is the autorefractor. It is like when you go to the eye doctor,” Ciera Wolf told Tara and Brenna Dugel.

The Dugel sisters were not visiting the eye doctor, but they were seeing a dream come true -- not just for themselves, but for two students in the ophthalmic assistant program at Maricopa Skill Center.

“Cody (Joe) and Ciera over there are our first success stories and we are really, really excited," Tara said.

Ciera and Cody are enrolled at the Maricopa Skill Center thanks to the Dugels, who recently launched Project Sena.

“Project Sena stands for Scholarship and Education for Native Americans,” Tara told us.

Despite their age, the Dugels have already discovered they have an important role to play in our community.

“Life isn't just about me, it’s not just about my sister Brenna, and it is not just about our immediate family. And we really are a part of this bigger, larger community, and we should always try to give back whenever we can," Tara said.

Because their father had worked for Indian Health Services, they decided to focus on the Native American community, but finding their calling was not a simple process.

"I mean, it didn't start off so smoothly,“ Brenna recalled. “We tried to have a book club in Chinlee and we offered to tutor a bunch of kids up there, but none of them really responded to us.”

“The number of times we tried to do things before Cody and Ciera was innumerable,” Tara added.

But thanks to support from Retinal Consultants of Arizona and the Gila River Indian Community along with a partnership with Maricopa Skill Center, the sisters landed on the scholarship idea.

Ciera and Cody said they didn't think the ophthalmic assistant program would have been an option for them without Project Sena.

They are now eight weeks into an intensive, hands-on course which will lead them not only to a career as ophthalmic assistants, but also allow them to give back as well.

“I would like to give back. We both would like to give back to our community,” Ciera said.

Cody added, “I saw the whole community suffering with diabetic retinopathy and the majority of Native Americans have that. And I want to see if there is a cure or something.”

The Dugels are helping us all see how we can build a better community through the power of giving.

“I think there is always a way to give no matter what you are doing,” Brenna said, smiling.

The sisters are looking for both donations and community partners for Project Sena.