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The PC(USA)’s Christmas Joy Offering helps mother-daughter duo find success at Stillman College


‘There’s no way you can fail’

January 22, 2024

The mother-daughter team of Carla Louca and Susannah LeMay found a caring community studying at Stillman College, a Presbyterian-related school in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Contributed photo)

Just like those wise pilgrims from the East who followed the star to Bethlehem only to return home by another way, Carla Louca and Susannah LeMay took some unexpected detours to find purpose and meaning.

And, in the end, the mother-daughter duo saw the light of Christ reflected in each other.

At first, living thousands of miles apart, their respective roads surprisingly led them to study in the same place at the same time, Stillman College, a Presbyterian-related school in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Although Louca, now 42, had originally begun her undergraduate education in 1998, because she was “way too interested in partying,” she let her grades fall by the wayside and left school after only a year. When her daughter Susannah was born, followed by twin sons not long afterward, Louca took a break to raise her family.

But after divorcing and working mediocre jobs, she wasn’t making ends meet and knew she needed something more.

“I needed the intellectual challenge and the spiritual connection,” she said. “Something was just terribly missing.”

She found it all at Stillman.

“When I first contacted the admissions office, I was transparent and honest about my situation, which I explained in a personal statement,” she said. “They took a chance on me and am I ever glad that they did.”

Meanwhile, LeMay was living and studying in South Korea, where her military father was stationed. Although she thought she would follow in his footsteps as a career diplomat, the Covid years precipitated an inner crisis as well as a financial one for the now 21-year-old, as she contemplated returning to the U.S. to continue her studies.

The mother-daughter team of Carla Louca and Susannah LeMay were part of Stillman College’s national champion Honda Campus All-Star Challenge team. (Contributed photo)

“When you spend a lot of time reflecting on yourself and what you want from life, I realized that diplomacy wasn’t what I wanted to do,” she said. “I knew I wanted to go into music, but I couldn’t get funding where I applied in Alabama. Because my mom was going to Stillman, she suggested I come there to study music journalism. Once I transferred and jumped into a lot of activities, I quickly learned that as soon as you get into the community, there’s really no way that you can fail. If you want to succeed, people will absolutely give you the tools and the knowledge that you need.”

Providing students with the support they need to succeed is what the PC(USA)’s Christmas Joy Offering — a cherished Presbyterian tradition since the 1930s — is all about. The annual offering distributes gifts equally to Presbyterian-related schools and colleges equipping communities of color and to the Assistance Program of the Board of Pensions.

And not only have both students excelled at Stillman, but their dedication to the college has also resulted in a big win — and an equally big windfall — for the school.

In April 2023, Louca and LeMay were members of the Stillman College Honda Campus All-Star Challenge team that won the school — the competition’s smallest — its first-ever National Championship, which was accompanied by a $75,000 institutional grant from Honda.

“We’re not just mother and daughter, we actually are best friends,” said LeMay, who plans to launch a career in the music industry when she graduates in 2024.

Although the duo has once again gone their separate ways, Louca knows that their physical distance will be easier to navigate this time around because their bond has deepened.

“When I think about how I have grown more spiritually and what I have learned at Stillman, especially what Dr. King said about the light of Christ being in everyone,” said Louca, “to be able to see that light of Christ reflected in my own child is a really beautiful thing to experience as a mom.”

As both a parent and a Stillman graduate, Louca is proud that the college continues “to produce people who care and who are really in touch with humanity.” For her, that’s the most important thing the community can do to give back to the world and to say thank you to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for the gifts that made her and her daughter’s education possible.

“The Christmas Joy Offering isn’t just a program,” Louca said. “It touches individuals’ lives, and I’m so grateful.”

Emily Enders Odom, Associate Director of Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus: Christmas Joy Offering

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Mark Adams and Miriam Maldonado, Mission co-workers serving on the Mexico/US Border, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Ruth Adams, Director, Assistance Program, Church Engagement, Board of Pensions

Let us pray

Incline your ear to us, O God, for we are always in need of your gracious care. Preserve and protect us when the storms of life wash over us and leave us gasping for breath. Help us to notice signs of your providence and love each day, especially when we cannot care for ourselves but need to rely upon the kindness of brothers and sisters to help us weather the storm. Amen.