Last Saturday, The Chicago Lighthouse held its annual scholarship ceremony. Scholarships were awarded to 38 outstanding college students who are blind, visually impaired or have multiple disabilities. Since it was established in 2004, The Lighthouse’s scholarship program has grown into the second largest of its kind in the U.S. This year, scholarship recipients came from Illinois, Georgia, Minnesota, South Carolina, Massachusetts and Michigan. Students can use scholarship funds to cover tuition, housing, transportation, tutoring and adaptive technology expenses.
This year was my first time attending the ceremony, and like everyone else I was touched and inspired by the remarkable stories and journeys of the scholarship recipients. The keynote was given by Daniela Estrada, who simultaneously studied and worked at The Lighthouse’s UI Health call center to save money for college. She will be attending Cornell Law School this fall to pursue her goal of becoming a lawyer. In her speech, Daniela talked about the many challenges caused by her visual impairment, her mom’s high expectations for her to succeed in school, and her experience immigrating to the United States and getting help from The Lighthouse.
“Never regret searching for the truth and expanding your knowledge because it always pays off in the long run. Pursue your education as fiercely and persistently as you possibly can,” she told the audience.
Lighthouse President and CEO Dr. Janet Szlyk then talked about two innovative Lighthouse programs this summer for young people who are blind, visually impaired and disabled. The First Jobs program provided several teens, who were previously out-of-work, with meaningful employment and practical on-the-job experience at the Mariano’s store in Glenview. The Summer in the City program brought together several youngsters who are visually impaired to learn more about independent living, orientation and mobility and other skills while experiencing aspects of Chicago’s rich cultural scene. They stayed at the nearby ICRE Wood facility and visited The Lighthouse to meet with key staff. The teenagers also did such fun things as take a yacht cruise on Lake Michigan and attend a White Sox game.
Lighthouse intern Patrick Andrade spoke eloquently about how working with the Summer in the City teens opened his eyes to the capabilities of those who are blind or visually impaired. Meanwhile, First Jobs participant Elbra Jajou “rapped” about his experience applying for a job and how working at Mariano’s has changed his life.
Scholarship recipient Noel LaRosa agrees. Also in the First Jobs Program, Noel says that working at Mariano’s has been a fun experience that has given him the opportunity to strengthen his skills and independence. Having faced numerous trying circumstances as a child, in addition to his severe visual impairment, has never stopped Noel from pursuing his goals. He is currently a student at Oakton Community College, working towards an Associate’s degree in business. His ultimate goal is to become an architect. The Lighthouse scholarship will allow him to purchase assistive technology that will help him in class.
Noel says he is ready to face all of life’s challenges in college and beyond, and this is his advice to everyone: “Keep trying, keep working hard and always keep moving forward.”
On behalf of everyone at The Lighthouse and the scholarship recipients and their families, I’d like to thank the generous donors who make the program possible each year. Affording a college education is challenging for many students, and it can become even more difficult for those who are visually impaired due to the additional expenses. Congratulations to the 2016 scholarship winners! All of us at The Lighthouse wish you the best of luck! Those interested in applying for a scholarship in 2017 can find the application and instructions by visiting this page. Scholarship information is posted during the early spring of each year.