Growing up in Michigan, Anna Powell experienced a childhood of hardships and struggle.
She knew little of her father, except that he didn't graduate high school, and she was raised by her mother, who struggled to put food on the table and pay rent.
Powell was the first in her family to graduate from high school with a traditional diploma. Her mother didn't acquire her GED until she was 34, the same age that Powell is now as she prepares to receive her bachelor's degree in philanthropic studies from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
She completed the requirements for her undergraduate degree in December and went directly to working toward her master's degree. She will receive her undergraduate diploma at IUPUI's commencement ceremony this weekend.
"Education is the single thing that ended the cycle of poverty for me," Powell said. "And I hope I can be an inspiration for my family and others in my situation.
"It's all about the mindset. We establish these barriers subconsciously that make it hard for us to see that an education is attainable."
Powell had previously earned a degree in culinary arts from Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis, but she wanted to further her education. After discovering the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, which is one of the only schools in the country to offer a degree in philanthropic studies, Powell knew she had found her true calling. When she began full-time at IUPUI, she was also working as the catering manager at Ivy Tech, running her own small catering company and volunteering with a few organizations that she had leaned on when she was struggling.
She is a regular volunteer with Second Helpings, a nonprofit organization that repurposes unused food from around the city to prepare close to 3,000 meals a day for the needy. There, Powell volunteers as a chef instructor, teaching classes for students who are underemployed or unemployed. This is where Powell herself got her start and acquired the skills to get her first job in a kitchen, but it's also the organization that spurred her love for philanthropy.
"So many philanthropic endeavors came together to make these classes and this resource free for struggling adults like myself," she said. "It feels like I've come full circle now that I'm able to volunteer and give back to this organization."
In addition, she volunteers with Dress for Success, another Indianapolis nonprofit that works to empower women in need of career development tools, such as a suit or resume writing. She is also a board member for Slow Food, where she promotes local and sustainable food initiatives.
Through her work with these organizations, she has demonstrated her personal motto: "to be of maximum service to my fellow human beings."
Inspired by this passion, she adopts an organization or cause each year around Thanksgiving, to which she will donate a meal she has prepared and made possible through fundraising. This year, she was able to raise $5,000 and travel to the Standing Rock protest site to provide meals for those protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Powell is working on her master's degree and is hoping to pursue a dual Master of Jurisprudence degree through the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law.