Meleny Estrada Cortez will be the first person in her immediate family to attend college when she begins studying nursing at Stony Brook University in the fall.
The recent Riverhead High School graduate credited a scholarship she received through the Riverhead Rotary’s W. Bruce Stark Memorial Scholarship for helping to make that dream become possible. She was one of three students to receive the $16,500 scholarship, the top honor among more than a dozen scholarships the rotary distributes.
“It’s truly an honor to be a recipient of the scholarship because it’s allowed me to focus on my studies more,” Meleny said. “I’ll be the first person in my family to attend college so this scholarship will definitely help me focus on my academics and hopefully achieve my goal of becoming a nurse.”
The scholarships are an annual tradition for Riverhead Rotary, but this year stood out for the total sum awarded. A record $73,000 in scholarships were awarded. Several of the recipients were honored during Wednesday’s rotary meeting at the Hyatt Place.
“It’s the biggest number we’ve ever hit,” said Annmarie Zilnicki said, chair of Riverhead Rotary’s scholarship committee. She added that Riverhead Rotary has given a total $1.18 million since the inception of the program.
The $73,000 total comes from a collection of 12 scholarships the rotary offers. Fifteen students were awarded money from those scholarships which ranged from $1,000 to $16,500. The W. Bruce Stark Memorial Scholarship is funded by an annual golf outing in memory of Rotary member W. Bruce Stark, who died in 1991, according to his son Brian.
“This past year given it was the 30th anniversary there was just a larger push for fundraising,” said Ron Farnworth, a past Rotary club president. “The Stark family was extremely generous contributing even higher amounts of money than they had in years past and a number of other corporate donors responded in kind. That allowed us to raise a substantially greater amount of money in this past year than what we had in prior years.”
Mr. Stark said his goal is to grow and increase the scholarship every year.
“That’s what we have to do as Rotarians to give back, we have to raise more and the family plans on doing more in the future because we’re fortunate to have, so we’re going to give back,” he said.
Three other award winners — Grace Dono, Rachel Rempe and Monica Silva — attended the Rotary meeting and shared what receiving the scholarship means to them. Ms. Zilnicki also read letters from other students who couldn’t attend. Grace was another recipient of the $16,500 scholarship. The third recipient was Ahmed Mohammed.
Grace will be attending University of Rochester and will be majoring in physics.
“While in college I hope to continue embodying the idea of service above self and will make it a priority to continue serving my community,” she said. “Thank you for allowing me this opportunity.”
Rachel received the $4,000 Riverhead Rotary Scholarship and Monica received the $1,000 Judge Allen Smith Memorial Scholarship.
All award recipients are from Riverhead Central School District.
There are various factors that go into deciding who is awarded the scholarships, Ms. Zilnicki said to the audience.
“Every scholarship has specific qualifications whether it be academic oriented, or community service oriented or sports oriented and we factor everything,” she said. “We look at financial factors, we look at the strength of the academic schedule and everything gets weighted.”
Good academics isn’t the only factor the Rotary looked at when choosing a winner, Mr. Stark said.
“We don’t just look at just the grades, we look at how truthful you are and how stuff matters outside the classroom,” he said.
The Rotarians said they’re proud to be able to give back to the community in many ways.
“It just motivates us to continue to do the kind of work that we do in the community,” Mr. Farnworth said.