We asked you to tell us about inspiring women in your life. We went through hundreds of nominations in our Remarkable Women contest. Now, we’re sharing our finalists’ stories.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — If being remarkable means raising more than $35 million for local and state non-profits, then Marie Felan hit the mark long ago. Raising money for low-income families, bringing dignity to struggling moms and helping children thrive simply comes naturally to her. She was once all those things. Changing lives started with changing her own.

“It was always ‘You figure out how to make your way,’” Felan said.

She was a teen mom. The odds were against her raising three young children before she was 20 years old.

“You either sink or you swim, and I’m not a sinker,” Felan said. She added she could barely keep her head above water on a budget of $40 dollars a week.  

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  • marie and her three kids posing
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“At one point, we were homeless because my ex-husband had lost his job and we couldn’t keep a roof over our heads,” Felan said. “So we found ourselves in a car, in a hotel several times. It was a turning point for me and my family.”

Felan said she knew she had to do better.

“I cannot look into their little eyes and not provide everything that they need and I knew a college education was my ticket for a brighter future for them,” she said.

She worked two jobs at night, took college classes during the day and so much more in between.

“My mother was the type of mother who would make our costumes for the school theatre play, she was the type of mom who helped make our school project,” said Felan’s daughter as she sat next to her two brothers and described their mom.

Felan called her three children her inspiration for graduating from Texas A&M. Her hard work had paid off and she began to pay it forward.

She gravitated toward helping families in situations she was all too familiar with.

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Marie Felan speaks at Avance’s Valor y Sueños luncheon (Courtesy Marie Felan)

“I fell in love with the idea to help other women and children by telling them they can make it, do it against all odds,” Felan said.

Over a career of 27 years, Felan has raised millions for non-profits, including Manos de Christo, the national Domestic Violence Hotline, Con mi Madre, Any baby Can and Avance — groups that help moms and children out of poverty.

“Her work and compassion have always been from the heart due to her own experiences. She has passed on her education, her leadership, her drive to so many with love and care,” said her husband.

Felan’s children are grown and successful in their own careers. They nominated Felan for KXAN’s Remarkable Woman contest.  

It’s not just the many lives she’s changed or the millions she’s raised, it’s about how Felan changed her own that makes her special to so many “even more so, my children make me feel very proud,” said Felan with tears in her eyes. The feeling is mutual. It’s an extraordinary feeling for children to be just as proud of their mom. “She is not just a remarkable woman but the remarkable woman of Central Texas.”