While a college education can be a great way for low-income students to escape the cycle of poverty, many of these students do not take this path. They often face difficult choices – Do I get a job and support my family, or do I take out large loans and further my education? These are tough choices to make at a young age.
As one small way to make higher education more accessible to low-income students, the WCEJ Thornton Foundation Low-Income Scholarship will be awarded to five students in any field of study who have an exemplary academic record, but are in need of financial assistance to pursue their dreams in higher education.
To apply, you must be a high school senior, someone returning to school, or already enrolled in a post-secondary education program. please write about your greatest achievement, what it taught you about yourself, and what you hope to achieve in the future.
Throughout my 20 years of life, I am grateful for all my achievements and experiences from being a start intern at PwC to passing my road test on the first try. My proudest achievement to date is opening a savings account. It may seem like something trivial but growing up I always dreamed of having my own savings account. I love the idea that with discipline, I can help pay for my tuition and even buy my own lunch rather than placing all the burden on my mother.
There is a lack of financial literacy among low-income individuals. A savings account is one of the most underrated assets. In elementary school and middle school, I never learned much about interest, credit cards, or savings accounts. Living paycheck to paycheck my mother never had the luxury of placing money aside for the future. Having a savings account for me is more than saving money for a vacation or a nice car, a savings account is an investment in my future. Because I have a savings account I am able to begin paying off my student loans and it could afford me the opportunity to move out on my own after college.
After receiving my accounting degree from Pace University, I hope to work full-time for PwC or Deloitte. I chose to study accounting because I want to be able to educate others in my neighborhood on any financial questions that they may have. I would like to be a full-time accountant focusing primarily on income taxes in addition to being a resource in my area year-round. Any questions they may have I hope they will come to me, even if it may not be tax-related. I dream that one day, I'll have the opportunity to present and discuss financial literacy in schools across the country. It's never too early or too late for people to learn about savings accounts, CDs, and credit cards.
Having the knowledge and ability to open a savings account is my proudest achievement to date. Through this savings account, I have learned how large the disparity of financial literacy is for many individuals. If others had an equal opportunity they too could be able to invest in their future.
At the age of nine, I was diagnosed with an aneurysm in the aorta which required surgery and a month-long hospitalization. I was treated at a government hospital, and though it was one of the best in Mexico City, I witnessed poverty, hunger, and malnutrition there.
I lived in Mexico City for fifteen years but had never really seen extreme poverty until that time. Families were charged based on income and some only made 1000 pesos a month (about $50). People traveled from all over Mexico to get the medical attention they needed, and when they got to the hospital their families had no place to stay and no money for food. I wanted to help. I came up with the idea of a bake sale to raise money because in Mexico we are known for showing love through our food. After selling all 956 brownies and 1543 gummy lollipops, the money we earned was enough to cover the cost of several surgeries for those in need.
Afterward, my mom and I started a fundraiser called “De Corazón a Corazón” (from the heart to the heart), which paid for many surgeries.
The first person I helped was Monica, and after her surgery, Monica's family called me to say that they had some money left over that they wanted to give back; they still needed money for medicine and transportation, so instead of returning any money, I asked them to help with the cooking of the brownies. So every year when the bake sale started again, more people gathered together to cook. This is one of the greatest achievements of my life because what started as one of the scariest moments in my life led to the possibility of saving lives.
This experience showed me I was stronger than I thought I was and it showed me that when people work together, many things can be accomplished.
Furthermore, my future career involves working with people with down syndrome, autism, and other special abilities. Throughout the past years, I have been involved in the Special Education community by volunteering at the Special Olympics and classes. It has been a wonderful experience that changed my life and made me sure of what I want to do for my future career. I will focus on double majoring in Psychology and Communication Sciences and Disabilities which focuses on a wide variety of problems in speech, language, and hearing.
My goal is to try and make the world a more inclusive place and ten years from now, I see myself finishing my Ph.D., and on the way to becoming one of the best special needs therapists. I want to make a change in the world and integrate people with special abilities into society and abolish the negative stigma society has portrayed in these individuals. I want to open a clinic where I help people with special needs form relationships and teach them how to be independent and care for themselves.
Finally, I see myself having a beautiful family and teaching my kids about the importance of respect and equality in a society because it is not the world you leave to your children, but the children you leave to the world that will make a difference. I want to show the world that people with special abilities are as capable as any other person in the world, but to accomplish my dreams of helping others, I am in desperate need of a scholarship to continue and further my education and help people in the future.
Going back to college after having dropped out many years ago I think is my greatest achievement so far, because for years the fear of failure kept me from going back. Even though I have had many different types of achievements in my life, none were as intimidating as going back to school.
In elementary the teachers told me I was a poor student- I didn't listen enough, do enough homework, or pay attention. In junior high, I failed one class and received poor grades in many others. Somehow in high school I ended up graduating with high honors and did quite well, and in that process, I learned that I had always needed glasses, for one thing, and that I had been bored in my previous classes prior to high school. In 9th grade I got prescription eyeglasses and lo and behold, I could see the blackboard! My English teacher asked me why I was in "basic English"- the only response I had was that I hadn't done enough homework in junior high. He promptly put me in advanced courses, where I proceeded to successfully pass with flying colors.
Unfortunately, all those previous years of being told that I wasn't a good student, getting poor grades, and subsequently dropping out of college the first time after two months really made me internalize that I was a bad student and that I would never get a college degree. I concentrated on work, got married, had my daughter, and worked some more. I've since been in a few different careers, moved around the country, volunteered overseas and in my community, and successfully completed a 4-year apprenticeship. Yet even for all that, the thought of going back to college terrified me. "I won't do my homework", "I'll fail", or "I'll get bored and drop out" were some of my fears.
None of those things have happened. In 2019 I enrolled back the very same college I had dropped out of back in 1999, and to date I am a sophomore and holding a 3.85 g.p.a., am a campus leader, an AmeriCorps VISTA in my community, and I volunteer at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in my (limited!) spare time. Putting myself through college has been an amazing experience, instead of a terrifying one. My first semester I had a 4.0 g.p.a., and that boosted my confidence so much that I knew I could and would succeed. I am on track to study abroad and finish my Bachelor of Science in Sociology an entire semester early due to my dedication and hard work.
This is why going to college is my greatest achievement yet- because I overcame what I was afraid of. I faced my biggest fear, that of failure, and I came out on top.
I think my greatest achievement to date is deciding as a full-time worker and mom at the age of thirty-two it was time to go back to school. This in itself is no small feat. I work hard every day juggling a full-time job and responsibilities as a mother and wife. I then go on to be a student in college. Do not get me wrong I do have a lot of support from my husband and family. However, the main tasks are on me. I have to make a schedule that works for all of my tasks as well as everyone else in my family. I have to make sure everyone else has everything they need to get through their day.
So far this experience has taught me to never underestimate myself. I can do anything I set my mind and effort to. I am a strong woman who has a lot on her plate but does not allow it to discourage me from my goals. I have learned to better manage my schedule and to just breathe because with life nothing ever goes as planned. I prepare for the unexpected and pray a lot more than I ever have. Being flexible is another change I have learned. I now know not everything will go my way but that is no reason to give up or give in.
The goals I have set for myself in the future are hard but very obtainable. I want to finish college and begin a successful career. Not a paycheck to paycheck job, but a career that I love doing. I do not want to feel miserable or stuck at my workplace. I want the enjoyment of being able to help people while doing my job. I want to be able to show my children you can achieve anything you set your mind to. It does not matter your age or circumstance. I want my children to know that hard work pays off and is recognized. My biggest goal is I want my family to be proud of me and my hard work. I want them to see that I made it through my struggles and did not give up.
University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh CampusMcKees Rocks, PA
Growing up, my family struggled a lot with money. My parents got divorced when I was still in middle school and my mom was left to raise 5 children on her own. I wasn’t the typical child who got to hang out with my friends and go to movies growing up. Instead, I spent my days staying home and teaching my mom to read and write. On warm hot summer days when everyone was at the pool, I was at work trying to squeeze in a few extra hours to meet the month’s rent. There were times when my siblings and I had to live out of our car or in cheap motels because we could not afford to live in our home. We even had to live in a shelter for a few months at one point. I am sharing my story, not to gain sympathy, but to simply show where my passion and commitment towards helping others has stemmed from. Living this life taught me the importance of being willing to help and assist others. Despite struggling so much throughout my young adult life, I managed to graduate high school at the top of my class and get accepted into my dream college. Fast-forwarding to today, I am currently a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh where I am majoring in Political Science and work towards obtaining a certificate in Non-Profit Management. I hope to someday establish my own non-profit organization aimed at providing social services to families struggling with poverty throughout Pittsburgh the way my family and I did over the years. Growing up in a poor community, I was able to see first-hand just how difficult and detrimental it is to live in poverty. I cannot count on my fingers how many times my siblings and I went to bed hungry or freezing cold in the winter when our gas was shut off because he hadn't been able to afford the month's rent. No one, especially no child, should have to live this way. I spent the first decade and a half of my life not even living but fighting to simply survive. If I can find a way to offer even the smallest bit of assistance to other struggling families through Pittsburgh, I want to be able to do just that. In fact, that it just what I plan to do. To better prepare myself for my future in assisting others, I have spent the past 2 years volunteering and helping people through different organizations and programs throughout the Pittsburgh area. I have worked with Jumpstart, a national organization aimed at bridging the kindergarten readiness gap within urban communities. Through my work with Jumpstart, I have worked with my amazing team to design lesson plans for young pre-schoolers and have spent a few hours each week working with these students. Also, I currently mentor under Strong Women Strong Girls where I meet with a group of young girls each week and conduct lesson plans centered around female empowerment and leadership. Further, I spend a lot of time tutoring with Keep-It-Real where I dedicate a few hours each week tutoring young children from the Somali-Bantu community here in Pittsburgh. Equally important, I currently serve as an ambassador for the Pitt To You Program where I represent the University of Pittsburgh in a global setting. In this role, I connect with incoming international Pitt students and find ways to provide these students with information and resources aimed at ensuring they have a comfortable and successful transition to their new college lives. I am also involved in numerous other organizations here on my campus that all work to assist different communities throughout Pittsburgh. This summer, I even plan on working closely with the community outreach members representing Representative Jake Wheatley of the 19th congressional district. I say all of this to show you all that I am deeply committed to finding ways to assist all people within different communities. Given this, my greatest achievement to date is that I am and always have been resilient. I managed to make something of myself despite having so little as a child.
I am a twenty-year-old woman living in Mexico-USA, and I have been writing for almost fifteen years. Before I learned to read, I drew comics and told my family stories. As I grew up, I wrote stories at the back of my school pages, in the margins, in napkins. When I was twelve years old, I wrote my first poem. At thirteen years old, my first novel.
Publishing a book was a distant dream to me. I thought I had to wait for someone to discover my talent and publish my art, but I decided to stop dreaming and start acting.
It was December 2017 when I decided it was time to publish my book. I had been writing a series of real stories about the situation of homelessness in Tijuana. I helped my mother with a health study about this community and learned their narratives. The pages tell the story of how people became addicted to heroin and lost everything they owned. This book intends to make the homeless community visible and to open a discussion about the correlation between mental health, violence, and substance abuse.
During my journey to achieve my dream, I learned the process of independent publishing. It was a try and failure process at first. I had to find a teacher who was willing to help me improve the text. I had to learn the basics of photography and editing for the book cover. The last step was to learn how to publish it on Amazon. Six months later, my book was complete.
I published my first independent book at seventeen, and since then, I have three books published: "Cuentos de mamá: Historias de heroína", "Amada Muerte", and "Ánima". For the last two books, I hire local girl artists to design the cover.
One of the lessons I carry with me through life is that I must search for information, whether it is for a government application, for school, or for fun. The answers are not always clear as day, but in the process, I learn. Another lesson is that if I want something, I will not stop until I create a plan to achieve it. And the last one: people who are willing to change the world are not discouraged by adversity.
I learned that my connection to art is more than personal. I describe my writing as another form of therapy and processing emotions, nevertheless, I have a greater vision for its purpose. When I was a kid, I wished for books and movies to be about girls like me, showing that we can be powerful, insightful, strong, and determined. But almost every memorable story has a male protagonist, and women's stories are categorized as a separate gender. I want to change that.
My books will empower oppressed communities. My art will be in favor of diversity and inclusion. For me, writing is a form of protest, and the writers their fighters. Today, I am writing the book I wish I would have read when I was a kid.
This scholarship will help me achieve my goal because I have many projects planned, and I am currently worried about paying my school tuition. My parents and I earn money in Mexican currency, and my college is in the U.S.A. I try to help my parents with my education by working a part-time job, but it is not enough. Working and studying leave me with little time to keep writing books. Winning this scholarship can help me achieve my dreams and lift some weight off my parents.
My next book has women, POC, deaf people, and LGBTQ+ representation. The novel can help these communities feel validated while reading an engaging story. My biggest ambition is to become a best seller author and filmmaker because I want my ideas to change the world. Thinking of writing is like breathing. The sound of the letters being written is my heartbeat, and the story my reason for living.
The most interesting part about me is my origin for sure, as it is an aspect I take great pride in. Although I was born in Colombia, I moved to the USA when I was four years old and became an American citizen in the 5th grade. My Colombian origin has made me very culturally diverse and accepting of different backgrounds and the celebrations and values that come with each specific culture. I also was raised without a father, with that and by going through YMCA Leader's Club and EDGE/Life Teen, I have been able to be vulnerable and willing to show weakness, which has helped me grow and develop as a leader through the theory of a "servant leader". My immigrant background has pushed me to demonstrate that Hispanics can be just as achievers and hard-working as everyone else in an academic environment, evolving to become a significant driving force in my education. Through volunteering, I have improved my willingness to communicate and compromise and increased my desire to form strong bonds within my community. I have learned to recognize some people do not have the same opportunities as me, meaning I not only need to take advantage of those opportunities but help and share with those who do not have access to them. I have experienced challenges in my life moving from Colombia to the USA, the outcome became promising because of the constant support in my life from my family and community.
My high school career has been characterized by balance, with me having to maintain community service, extracurricular clubs, my job, and my brief stint in youth sports while sustaining a decent academic performance. I have focused on balance to find success in all aspects of my life. I believe my greatest achievement to date has been to keep a balanced perspective to achieve my goals. On top of the balance I had to maintain in high school that I will keep enforcing during my college career, winning this scholarship would help me achieve my goals by allowing me to attend and finish college with minimum debt, which would be helpful since I am the first member of my family to attend college in the USA, and therefore this gives me more possible opportunities than my family had in Colombia. I will be attending the University of Florida College of Engineering in Gainesville, and for me to do this, I need to adapt and fend for myself.
Cartagena, my hometown in Colombia, has many problems in comparison to the infrastructure level we have in the USA. I want to study civil engineering, so I can find sustainable and feasible solutions to the infrastructure problems in cities and communities like Cartagena, helping them to achieve a better quality of life and progress. I am aware these communities are all over the world, creating global opportunities for engineering and its applications. It would be tremendous to be part of development projects around the world.
The woman on the screen was limping, blood seeping through a bandage that covered half her face. Surrounded by the rubble, she held her baby, who was crying incessantly. As I sat in my chair while watching this news segment, I was paralyzed. My dad was just as frozen as I was.
A magnitude 7.8 earthquake took place in Nepal in 2015. This catastrophe devastated millions, depriving them of food, shelter, and hope. Though I was on the opposite side of the world, my family in India felt the effects of such devastation, and through them, so did I. I would not leave my room that night, and I couldn’t sleep; I just sat and prayed that there wouldn’t be an aftershock. It all looked like a bad dream, but this wasn’t a fictional dystopia, it was reality.
When I got up the next morning, I tried to set aside my fears, but I knew that the interim tents for housing and the scant food would not be enough. I was driven to spearhead an initiative for the babies that faced malnourishment and the women that were burying their husbands.
At my next Indian Classical Music classes, I heard friends discuss the traumas from Nepal. With relief, I realized I wasn’t alone. I had the perfect group that was driven to aid these victims.
I took the initiative to lead my friends from music class to help feed and shelter affected peoples through musical expression. My plan was to mix Indian and American music and fund efforts through performances. I stayed after class for an hour weekly with my peers to work on our performance. I assigned team members and created a mashup with a friend, Keshav. We committed hours every day to finish a piece that would be presented to thousands of people in our community. I was very passionate about sharing my ideas with the world, even working until 3 a.m. for my song.
I reached out to my teacher, Mahesh Kale, for help identifying a venue, and he recommended a sizable theater in Sunnyvale, California. After several weeks of coordinating a marketing campaign, I realized my vision for bringing together a community and a group of artists to share their voices and give light to a global issue. Along with a standing ovation, our group received $5,000 for Nepal relief efforts.
After this event, I learned something about myself: I could apply my skills and talents to address the problems of today. I decided to try using chess, computer science, and math to make a similar difference. In the years that followed, I volunteered as a Bay Area Chess coach and a math tutor at Tutree and Buddies4Math in my local community. I also brought life to recycled computers using my computer science knowledge to give disadvantaged students access to educational platforms like YouTube and Khan Academy. I used my knowledge in Ubuntu/Lubuntu OS to provide such platforms and help further bridge the digital divide in America. I even raised funds for The Global Uplift Project which contributes to providing education for over 200 students in Kirinyaga Country, Kenya with improved educational facilities and curriculums.
The healing in Nepal that I took a proud part in molded me into a fearless and resilient leader who understands that though there are dark times, it is important to remain persistent in fostering hope. In college, I look forward to using my skills to keep making a positive impact in more communities and to enlighten more students on their path to success in their academic careers.
Currently, I have been accepted into the early admission pool of applicants at the University of California, Berkeley, and I plan to attend this Fall in the Computer Science major. I plan to challenge the status quo and inspire change in my local community and in communities around the world with profound resilience. I was also selected as a finalist in the Division of Equity and Inclusion where I plan to use my skillset in music to continue volunteering for my local community in Berkeley, California, and around the world. At Berkeley, I also plan to participate in Peace Corps and continuously use my resources for societal good.
Turning seventeen, with seven stomachs around a table, with Olive Garden’s breadsticks: “10.”
The flu shot debilitated me, leaving mounds of homework piled up on my desk: “2.”
Did not sleep for three nights to finish reading the Harry Potter series: “9.”
What started as an exercise in mindfulness in English class, became a way of life for me. Snippets of my daily life started coming together as my “Happiness Memoir,” and each snippet was assigned a “Happy” number from 1-10. This numerical cataloguing of memories allows for deep reflection, realization, and goal setting.
A “9” scribbled on September 30, 2018. I was dripping with sweat, selling hot dogs and burgers in the Fall Festival to help fund bingo nights for a nursing home.
A couple of months later on March 23, 2019, I was responsible for a five-year-old boy for Kindergarten Registration:“8.” He told me, “I want to be the president,” with fearlessness and during pizza, his smile shining with grease and a devious sparkle in his eyes reminded me that big dreams are mobilizers of human spirit. My Happiness Memoir doesn’t only mirror my emotions and thoughts, it is an indication of self-satisfaction I get from gifting happiness to others.
Whenever my “Happy” numbers are low, I visit the animal shelter. All the dogs in their kennels would wag their tails, body shivering from excitement, and Cindy, a pitbull had barbed wire fencing on top of hers to prevent her from jumping out. She had the label “pitbull” that garnered everybody’s distrust and bias. Like Cindy, my label “Asian American” set me standing 100m before the starting line, and I had to double my attempts to obtain a place equivalent to a mediocre white classmate.
A year ago, I was sitting in the small kennel with lightheadedness, accelerated heart rate, and nausea. As I extended my clammy hand, Cindy backed further against the wall, snarling. The 42”x28” constricted my throat like a boa taking my confidence, and each unacceptance from her left me feeling useless and distraught: “0.”
After several days of sitting with her, my tear ducts a dam ready to burst, she slowly approached and sat beside me. Cindy, my support system, has taught me patience and trust. Placing top of my class, leading events for Make-A-Wish, helping Cindy, and being enrolled in Advanced Placement courses has honed my compassion and confidence: “10.”
A memoir can be a hall of fame, but it can be a list of faults, pressures, and grueling difficulties. The experiences in my Happiness Memoir and the numbers charted do not define who I am, but rather it is a cosine chart filled with peaks and valleys throughout my life. At times, my valleys will be numbered “0,” but I also know that by owning outcomes and helping to empower myself and others, there will always be ample peaks measuring “10.”
Staying On Top
There have been several times in my life when I showed grit, and I have always had a growth mindset. For me, it is important to keep trying even when all hope gets lost; “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. This especially applies to me in school but also in my personal life since I’ve had eczema since I was a child - and it got worse ever since I hit puberty. Despite this, I have managed to stay ahead of my grade by going to college with more than 60 credits and a general associate's degree. I have also been in scouts since I was 15. Another thing is the numerous times I’ve had to bike and walk to my piano lessons, the store or the library in weather conditions ranging from pouring rain to heavy snow.
Around puberty my eczema started spreading to my arms, legs, back, chest, and face, but before then it only really had been under my feet. Eczema is not just dry skin, but also the unbearable urge to itch that is very hard to control. This causes not only extreme discomfort as the outer layers of skin start peeling off, but also can be embarrassing in social situations, and disrupts my life in many other ways as well. I cannot sleep well; studying for tests and paying attention in class can also be a huge challenge. Over the course of that moment until now I used many different ointments and creams, participated in a research study where scientists have tape-stripped and measured the moistness of my skin to study the effects of whatever drugs they were trying on me, and I have even had to stay in a hospital for a full week for “intensive eczema therapy”. Throughout all this, I have still focused on school and other activities such as piano and scouts. Often it has gotten bad enough that my skin got cracked open and I bled a bit but I still stayed on top. All of this is how I showed GRIT when my eczema was not under control.
I started going to piano about three years ago, and I have had a job since December of last year. When I started taking piano lessons I made sure to practice every day even if I had a lot of stuff going on that day (I was in scouts and krav maga - a martial arts - for a bit). Also on numerous occasions I have had to walk to piano (about an 1 hour walk there and back) in snow storms and downpours. During all of these struggles I failed Calculus 1 but I retook it and passed and I am still graduating with an Associates degree and Calculus 2 with an A. No matter what, I am not giving up on piano or my goal to get a major in math and computer science. Currently I have a job as a Laundry Attendant and Dietary Aide which I have had since December of last year. I am saving up for as much of college as I can with each paycheck; and I have already saved $5000. Although I know I won’t be able to fully pay for college with my job I believe by applying to as many scholarships as I can, I will be able to get some of the money through there.
Finally, the reason why I think I deserve this scholarship is because I have worked very hard over my life in school and helped out wherever I could. I have battled eczema and balanced piano lessons, scouting, martial arts and school. I have overcome obstacles such as a divorce and an abusive dad (I live with my mom in Colorado, my dad lives in Texas). I have lived with my mom and brothers in our current house for about 5 years now and I have supported my family and I have been a responsible older brother. I have done all of this and stayed on top of my life, school, and my family. I made it all the way to college!
Ah, 2020, the year of chaos and uncertainty. COVID-19 has completely changed our lives in a matter of months. My family has faced our share of problems, as have many other families, and the virus even took three very close family members of mine. Despite these challenging times, many great things have arisen in my life. One of my most rewarding achievements has been creating a service project centered around women's health, "Project Pink."
Since I was a young girl, I have had the innate drive to help others. So much so that at the age of seven, after the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in 2010, I wrote a 100-page book about the devastating event and how my family would adopt two affected children. The book was written on looseleaf paper, included cutout images, and was held together with an added pink and purple ribbon strung through the holes. Even at that age, I knew I wanted to contribute substantially to the lives of others. I used whatever materials I had available to express my vision. Unfortunately, adoption was not as simple as I thought. In later years, I turned my focus to volunteer work. I have been a tutor to various family members for many years, which led to me volunteering for a middle school intensive reading class. I wanted to volunteer with the local nonprofit organizations but did not precisely know how to go about it. Then, amid the latest public health crisis, I finally found the purpose and courage to start my own.
Over the years, I have seen the importance of feminine products. I have also seen a striking lack of access to them. Being a female myself, I know how ridiculously expensive it can be to purchase the necessary feminine products. As I entered my senior year and started my college career, I am preparing to positively impact all women's lives, starting with Project Pink. Our mission statement is "Impacting lives, one pink product at a time." We prepare individual Blessing Bags and fill them with feminine products such as menstrual products, women's deodorant, and other general items like toothpaste and toothbrushes. Project Pink is starting on the microscale and donating to local homeless shelters because there is always a demand for these kinds of products. I have support and sponsorships from school clubs, such as the Interact Club, the National Honor Society, and county organizations such as Williston Rotary Club and local churches. I have lofty goals to expand Project Pink to help more women, nationally and globally, and ultimately influence policy to make these items cheaper and more accessible.
Women should not be forced to choose between a menstrual product or their next meal. Believe it or not, this is a longstanding issue right here in the United States. "Period poverty" is a global systemic problem faced by women all over the country and the world who do not have access to safe, hygienic products to help regulate their menses with dignity. Women resort to making homemade pads, using rags, toilet paper, tissues, cloth, amongst other unfit materials. This is not only unpleasant to wear, but also dangerous. Women subject to these conditions are susceptible to developing harmful infections. Project Pink aims to intervene in the lack of accessibility to the proper feminine hygiene products. All women deserve to have the confidence of knowing that they will have easy access to a necessity as simple as a tampon.
The COVID-19 crisis caused a tremendous amount of disorder and confusion, but it also prompted me to begin an incredible service project. Project Pink is dedicated to providing women with the necessary products and bringing awareness to these products' not being readily accessible. Those who offer help and I are committed to making a difference in the lives of those who need it most. Project Pink is impacting lives, one pink product at a time.
The strong smell of disinfectant infiltrated my nostrils. The fluorescent lights and white walls pierced my eyes. I looked down at my trembling hands, twisting and turning them as if doing so would hold down the turmoil inside me. Despair roamed the room, expelled on the breath of fearful family members like me who were doing their best to bite down on the pain that brought them here. It was Thanksgiving Day, and instead of counting our blessings at the dinner table, I found myself sitting at my brother's bedside as a long, flat, piercing sound penetrated my ears. My brother had passed away.
I watched as his body vanished into what had been fragmented by a heart attack. The plaques and blockages that accumulated in his heart now seeped into our daily lives. It was as if I was touched by something chronic; something that wasn’t fatal, but still felt like it could be. In search of an outlet to conquer this emotional numbness, I sought to channel my energy into something more restorative.
In December 2018, I volunteered at Cannan Orphanage in Mombasa, Kenya with an international platform called Global Encounters. As a group of 40 people that were selected from a body of Ismaili Muslim students, my connections with the children were acutely intimate. The carefree attitudes and contagious smiles I was greeted with would have never led me to question their compromised quality of life. The children bathed in saltwater, used their fingers to brush their teeth, and cared for their menstrual cycles with cardboard boxes and brown paper bags. As I witnessed their hardships, a growing sense of responsibility stirred within me. I no longer felt numb.
An accumulation of every touching story from Cannan Orphanage resulted in Vijiti, a local and globally-focused nonprofit organization that I founded. Vijiti delivers medical supplies and creates hygiene curriculum for schools to uplift marginalized areas in Africa and Asia. My peers now help the cause through the Vijiti Club at my high school. With the help of our volunteers, Vijiti has served 3,000 care packages on a global scale and has designed a health curriculum for seven schools this past year.
Not only did starting Vijiti give me a sense of control, but for the first time, I realized that I had the power to do something: I could prevent another family from experiencing pain and loss similar to mine. The memory of my brother dying will always be sad and it will always hurt, but experiences like these have shaped me just as much as the joyful ones have. And just as permanently. My life lacked a purpose after my brother’s life was gone, but his death gave life to Vijiti, and Vijiti gave more meaning to my life. And this is how I honor my brother: by making sure his death isn’t a black hole that sucked me in, but instead the spark I needed to be able to burn brighter.
Pennsylvania State University-Main CampusState College, PA
When I was little I hated school, and if I am being honest that hatred stayed with me for a very long time. It was long hours of boring activities, and classmates that I didn't like very much, all morning I would be waiting for the last bell to ring so I could go home and start the real learning, I would spend my afternoons researching topics that I was passionate about, I would read for hours and hours about things they never taught me at school, all of my life I have had this idea that school sucks because all the really useful learning was outside of the classroom.
With time I turned this hatred for school into a passion for learning, I started enjoying the fun facts my chemistry teacher gave me, I started to see a purpose on the dreaded physics exercises and the math problems. Slowly school became everything to me, I started to enjoy it, I made friends and when they all complained about the literature homework I would hide my excitement to get home and write all of the essays and complete all of the workbook pages. I loved school. Of course, there were parts that I didn't like, and I still preferred my own little classroom at home, but school became a not-so-bad place after all.
As my high school years started I realized how much I would love college, everytime my teachers mentioned college, my attention would sharpen and all I could think about was this amazing place where you get to choose what to study, finally, a place where I could practice my passion for learning alongside other people with similar interests as mine. It was a dream come true.
My biggest achievement so far is being accepted to Penn State University, I had a plan, and this was only the next step. As a Latina woman, it is a bigger deal, I would have to move away from home (every Latin family's worst nightmare) and it was economically challenging, my family doesn't like to make me feel the economic aspect of it is a problem, but being honest it was, it was a big problem.
Applying for financial aid is one of the most stressful things I have ever have to do, right next to receiving my awarded financial aid summary, it was not enough. So I gave up on the idea of attending Penn State for a while, it is too expensive and my family could never afford it, so I started making different plans: community college, a gap year working and saving up, applying to a million scholarships so I could afford it... To be honest it was a bit discouraging realizing attending my dream school was actually just that, a dream.
But a few weeks ago I decided that I won't give up on it just yet, I am a strong woman, and I will work hard to get where I want to be, I want to be a STEM major, I want the Computer Science field to be open for everyone, I want that 3% of Latina women working in STEM-related fields to grow a little bit every day, and I will start by doing it myself, I want to prove something to myself, I want to prove I am capable of achieving anything I want. And I want to show my family that even though it is hard, it is also possible. And that money won't stop me, I will get to the place I belong no matter what, I want to be a role model for young Latin girls with a passion for math, science, technology, and most importantly, for girls with a passion for learning.
Barnes-Jewish College Goldfarb School of NursingPalmer, AK
I am a life-long Alaskan who spent my elementary years in a rural Alaskan Native village one-room schoolhouse with my dad as the teacher. Health care and health care education were minimal. Children in my class suffered from physical, sexual, and mental abuse. Although a dry village, alcoholism and drug addiction plagued the community. The school was the only source for health and social education. This same story reads throughout rural Alaska and many communities in the US. I made a commitment to make a difference in our communities.
My life experiences have prepared me well for this goal. As a high school student, Butte Volunteer Fire Department offered me my first experience with emergency services. As a firefighter trainee, I trained alongside fellow community members. I continue to be grateful for that opportunity. Following graduation from Palmer High School, I began work as a firefighter/EMT for the University of AK Fire Department (UFD) with a promotion to Lieutenant and lead medic on an Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulance, quite an achievement at age 22.
I have always wanted to be involved in emergency management and health-related fields. I want to help people. It is the passion of many to want to help others, but I am inspired to be directly involved. I wanted the first-hand opportunity to save peoples’ lives and make a difference in the world. While Hollywood dramas often show the heroics of firefighters rushing into burning buildings and nurses covering gunshot wounds in an ER, the daily work of emergency health and safety providers goes far beyond that portrayal. Firefighters/EMTs and nurses are responsible for disaster preparedness, responding to medical emergencies, and educating the public. Most emergency health and safety personnel work go on behind the scenes to help keep communities safe. Duties don’t end at the fire station or hospital, firefighters/EMTs and nurses work diligently to prepare and educate their communities. I will bring that experience and commitment to Mat-Su which I will utilize as a nurse and a volunteer firefighter/EMT.
Giving back to the community has always been a strong commitment of mine. My past and current volunteer efforts include Special Olympics, youth sports, and community health and safety education. A nurse has a natural opportunity to give back to communities in the highest capacity. With a versatile health background, one can provide services to rural communities that lack adequate healthcare, sporting, or community events just to name a few. I’m excited about returning to some of my previous Mat-Su commitments like coaching, camp counselor, Special Olympics, and Red Cross. I look forward to completing school and giving back to the community I grew up in.
Not leaving for college mid-pandemic? A sound financial decision. Deciding to instead volunteer as a farmhand for remote operations across the U.S? Questionable. I have always been a spontaneous person. My mother taught me at an early age to take every opportunity that presents itself in life. For 18 years, that conviction held steady. That is until I found myself on a farm smack-dab in the middle of nowhere, itching at the angry hives that painted my sun-fried skin, picking up pounds of rotted and bug-ridden squash. As I previously stated, this venture was a questionable decision.
The first night I spent on Bio-way farm in South Carolina was memorable (to say the least). At dinner, my host handed me a map of her hundred sprawling acres. Specific fields were scribbled over with sweat-smudged ink so that only the words "Mind the..." were legible. My host warned of sun-poisoning, heatstroke, black widows, snake bites, and fire ants. I listened intently, anticipating her following plans of action in the off chance those hazardous scenarios were to unfold. My host, however, promptly took back the map and announced it was time to settle in for the night. I trudged off to bed, feeling quite in over my head.
Within seven days, I'd had a close call with all of the dangers detailed over our initial dinner. I had taken to not-very jokingly referring to every meal as my "last supper." Humor had always been my failsafe, a coping mechanism that got me through the toughest of situations with a smile on my face and a lightness in my heart. It was out in that squash field, being suffocated by one-hundred and eight degrees of wet heat, that I realized humor wouldn't be enough this time around. I needed to dig deeper and search for the underlying lesson this opportunity was granting me. I stepped in a fire ant hill before I could begin brainstorming too intensely, however, so any grand realizations were put on indefinite hold.
My epiphany wouldn't come for another two weeks. By that time, I had pulled weeds in the pouring rain, gathered thousands of cherry tomatoes, and discovered my minor eggplant allergy. I was cleaning garlic, immersed in a rhythm of motion when I was finally able to articulate the reason for my wild excursion. Life didn't owe me an explanation or some awe-inspiring lesson. It was my responsibility to forge meaning from the meaningless. I could no longer be a bystander of my own life. The prospect of not only gaining experiences but actively defining them was foreign.
Working on Bio-way farms is my greatest achievement to date. It was a series of trials and adventures that culminated into one vital self-discovery. It is not enough to passively obtain experiences. I must actively determine and create value in the face of adversity. My time on the farm cemented my future ambition of becoming an elementary educator. I will teach my students the importance of agency in both education and daily living. After spending so many years obliviously complacent, I have a yearning to ensure that stance is not adopted by others. Though my time on Bio-way farms was taxing, it strengthened my character and secured my career path. Once my month at Bio-way farm was up, I went on to volunteer at a homestead in Albany, New York. There, I appreciated every spade-blister, bear encounter, and poison ivy rash. Not because they were particularly pleasant events, but because I could confidently define them and catalog the experience in an ever-expanding bank of knowledge.
My greatest achievement to date is receiving my high school diploma. I am 32 years old and it took me 13 years to go back to school and continue my education. I was inspired by my cousin to enroll in a program that allows you to get your high school diploma at your own pace. I was surprised at how easily I was able to adjust to the school environment and I really enjoyed being back in the classroom. I excelled in my classes rather quickly by being self-disciplined and practicing good time management skills. I learned so much about myself during this time. I was much more patient than I thought I was. I was able to balance my life as a single parent, work a part-time job, and go to school all at the same time and I was so proud of myself. It was a major accomplishment for me to complete these goals because of all the tragedies and health issues that I have faced while trying to accomplish them. All my hard work and grit was really starting to pay off for me. I remained focused on my goals so that I could ultimately enroll in college like I always dreamed of doing.
In the fall of 2020 I enrolled in college courses even though we were in the middle of a pandemic because I didn't want to let opportunities pass me by ever again. I wanted to make sure that I secured my future and followed all of my dreams. I want to become a business owner one day so I realized that I had to take my future into my own hands. I am majoring in Business Administration and I have completed two semesters so far. I am a straight A student and I am very excited about what my future may hold. In the next 5 years I plan to own my own business and ultimately pursue my bachelor's degree in Business Management. I believe that opening a business would be a great addition to my local community and help me grow as an individual. All of my hard work and dedication will open up new doors and opportunities for me. I have always wanted to help my community and I believe that I am heading in the right direction to accomplish this goal. I am extremely proud of myself and I know that my future is bright.
My greatest achievement to date is when a mentee received best cadet at an encampment. I was in Civil Air Patrol (CAP) while I was in high school. I finished CAP as a Captain. During my time in CAP I was the aviation officer, special event officer, and squadron commander for two terms. However, a wonderful experience that I was privileged with, was being selected as a flight commander. I was an LT at the time, and this encampment was held at the state level in Missouri. Encampment was used to initiate the incoming cadets to develop leaders of character in an increased stressful environment. Myself as well as my partner (flight sergeant) were made responsible for 18 cadets. Throughout the week we trained these cadets by use of motivation, inspiration, and discipline to develop them into leaders of character for themselves as well as their peers. There was a cadet in particular who I saw have amazing potential. He had a heart of gold and would help his wingmen even if he wasn't able to complete his own task that he was assigned. He worked hard to continue improving himself for his wingmen and himself. It was this fire that I saw in him, that made me fail him on every single inspection. He had one of the best beds made I had ever seen and I failed him because there was one piece of lint on his bunk. Post-inspections I would pull him aside and congratulate him on having the best bunk, however I would help him understand that if he could meet this standard then so should everyone else in this flight because they have someone like him to teach them. The inspections got better as the week went on and I knew my numbers weren't pertinent to the final numbers of our flight. Therefore, during the final inspection where I saw near perfect bunks. I walked down the rows of bunks and failed every single one. I didn't even look or take out my ruler to measure their bunk, I simply walked down and failed them all as loudly as I could. At the end I stopped and told them that the examiner, conducting their final inspection whose numbers mattered, was going to come in shortly. I told them that they had made it through the week and no matter what I or the examiner was going to say about their performance in the next 30 minutes, that it didn't matter as long as they could look at one another and be proud of the people they are standing next to one another. As long as they were proud of the people they had become, and as long as they were proud of the work they had completed together, they had successfully completed encampment regardless of what the numbers will tell them. After their final inspections, the cadet who I had failed multiple times for simply having a piece of lint on their bunk came up to me and shook my hand. He said he was proud of who he had developed to be and proud to be taught by me. I watched this cadet receive his award to as best encampment cadet, and I had never been prouder. I was awarded with best encampment officer, and received commemoration for my work as commander, however none of that compared to watching someone I had mentored receive an award that he deserved. I like to believe I helped him achieve his award. I learned that not every leadership tactic I did was successful, however as long as I remained respectful of the people I was leading and they shared a common goal, the mission was going to be completed. I learned that I had the possibility to be a great leader one day. I remained in contact with him for a bit after that, mentoring him through classes and life. He was my first successful leadership story and I am proud of the person he became. In the future I want to take my leadership skills, develop and refine them, to be the best leader in the US Coast Guard I can be. I want to work hard to be the best aviator and leader that future coast guardsmen can be proud to have been led by.
The application deadline is Jul 1, 2021. Winners will be announced on Aug 1, 2021.
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What is the scholarship award?
The scholarship award is $20,000.
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The winner will be publicly announced on Aug 1, 2021. Prior to the announcement date, we may contact finalists with additional questions about their application. We will work with donors to review all applications according to the scholarship criteria. Winners will be chosen based on the merit of their application.
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We will send the award check to the financial aid office of the winner’s academic institution or future academic institution in their name, and in the name of their institution (depending on the school’s requirements). If the student's academic institution does not have a financial aid office, the student will receive the funding directly.
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