CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - College of Charleston seniors Angel Mathis and Elena Swink share a special bond.
The two are among 115 students since 1999 to receive college scholarships through The Gavalas Kolanko Foundation, a local charity awarding annual scholarships to students with physical disabilities.
Both were also born deaf.
"It's not just financial support," Angel Mathis said.
"It's also the ability or the opportunity to make friendships with people who understand where you're coming from, and want to be there for you."
The two met at a foundation banquet two years ago and have remained close friends. Each year, the James Island Connector Run serves as the foundation's largest fundraiser, with proceeds reaching over $700,000 in its 17-year history.
'Medical costs have always been in my life," Mathis added.
"Having a foundation that understands that, and wants to help you as you further yourself academically means a lot to me."
Both students have since been able to study abroad, citing the annual scholarship as a source of relief, in light of numerous medical expenses.
While in middle school, fellow recipient Elena Swink underwent cochlear implant surgery replacing her hearing aid with an electronic device designed to send signals to her brain signifying sound.
A transition, she says, proved tough.
"It was just so frustrating to constantly be hearing beeps and tones instead of my friends talking, or the school bell ringing."
"It was a real struggle."
Tuesday, Swink smiled in the face of those struggles, sharing the memory of her experiences with Angel Mathis.
Mathis, who recited a self-proclaimed "laundry list" of medical conditions, said was born two months early, with a hole in her heart, and also worked through difficulty speaking.
Today, the College of Charleston senior holds a double minor in hospitality and creative writing, with a major in Communications.
The Gavalas Kolanko Foundation Scholarship is also awarded to students at Charleston Southern University, The Citadel, Trident Technical College, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), and the Art Institute of Charleston.