Student Advocacy to honor four students at awards dinner May 19 in Tarrytown, New York
05/01/2011

Four deserving Westchester County students who have known extreme adversity in their young lives will be honored at Student Advocacy’s 16th annual Overcoming the Odds awards dinner on Thursday, May 19, at the historic Tappan Hill Mansion, located at 81 Highland Avenue in Tarrytown, starting at 6:30 p.m.

Online PR News – 01-May-2011 – – (ELMSFORD, N.Y.) – Four deserving Westchester County students who have known extreme adversity in their young lives will be honored at Student Advocacy’s 16th annual Overcoming the Odds awards dinner on Thursday, May 19, at the historic Tappan Hill Mansion, located at 81 Highland Avenue in Tarrytown, starting at 6:30 p.m.

The Awards Dinner, an annual fundraiser for Westchester-based not-for-profit Student Advocacy, recognizes students from Westchester and Putnam Counties who have overcome the odds to achieve school success. Past winners have included students who have faced severe learning disabilities, life-altering family issues (such as homelessness, domestic violence and substance abuse) and serious, often life-threatening illnesses.

The 2011 Award Winners are Julian Faranda, Pleasantville High School; Alyssa Gonzalez, New Rochelle Campus School; Caitlin Horsfield, Dobbs Ferry High School; and Mariame Samuda, Mt. Vernon High School. All are seniors, determined to graduate in June.

A resident of Pleasantville, Julian Faranda's long-term goal is to become a professional musician, conductor and composer. He plays piano, organ and harpsichord at an advanced level, but due to multiple disabilities -- including language delays and autism spectrum disorder -- he has only recently learned to read music.

“Given all the obstacles that could have gotten in his way, and the complex issues he has faced, Julian represents an outstanding example of an individual who has truly overcome the odds,” said Pleasantville High School guidance counselor Cheryl Thomas. In spite of all the challenges he faces in everyday life, over the past 2 ½ years Julian has flourished at Pleasantville High School thanks to proper support in school and from his family and community. He is expected to graduate in June with a Regents diploma.

“This is the year I am going to graduate from high school!” vowed Alyssa Gonzalez of New Rochelle on New Years Day, 2011. Less than a year ago, no one, and especially not Alyssa, would have thought that a realistic goal. Alyssa struggled with dyslexia, still reading on a 4th grade level in the 8th grade. As her struggles intensified, she began to miss a lot of school. She was in danger of joining the over 1.3 million kids who drop out every year in the U.S.

But Alyssa refused to become a dropout. With help from Student Advocacy, she chose to attend the district’s alternative school. Now, her English teacher teases that she reads too much. As she sought and accepted help, motivated by her responsibility as a role model for her younger cousin, Alyssa began to appreciate her abilities rather than focusing on her disability. She would love to pursue her passion to learn about killer whales by becoming a marine biologist.

Caitlin Horsfield of Dobbs Ferry was a top honor student, an athlete, and very involved in many activities in school and in her community. Then, in the summer before her junior year, while being treated for severe sunburn, Caitlin was diagnosed with a fast-growing cancer of the white blood cells. Intensive treatment began, including a spinal tap every week for the first eight weeks, bone marrow extract and chemotherapy.

With a weakened immune system, Caitlin could not risk attending school. For the next year and half, she was educated by tutors at home. Despite feeling sick and weak from treatment, and despite going from an involved high school environment to one of near isolation, she pursued her studies for an International Baccalaureate Diploma. In February, Caitlin returned to school full time. She will graduate in June with an IB diploma.

Mariame Samuda’s inner strength is hidden behind her determined efforts. She is in the top 10 percent of her class at Mt. Vernon High School -- an active volunteer at a nursing home, an advocacy center for abused children and a food bank; the student body president, vice president of the Math Club, and a Westchester Scholar. Someday, she plans to become a neurosurgeon.

But this past January, after being homeless on and off since the 5th grade, her main focus was on relaxing in her new home. Amidst the profound instability of homelessness, Mariame found stability at school. “School was the place where I was freed from the imprisonment of the shelters and motels,” she said. “School is one of the things that I have that can’t be taken away from me.”

Student Advocacy will also honor Abigail Kirsch, founder of Abigail Kirsch Catering Relationships, at the dinner. Ms. Kirsch is one of the foremost authorities in the catering industry whose philanthropic efforts and career achievements place her among the most respected and influential women entrepreneurs in the country.

Student Advocacy provides educational advocacy services aimed at ensuring all children receive the education they need and are legally entitled to so that they can go on to earn a high school diploma.

For more information about the dinner, placing an ad in the Event Journal, or purchasing tickets to the event, please contact Martha Jordan, Student Advocacy Assistant Director, at (914) 347-7039, ext. 119, or at mjordan@studentadvocacy.net.

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