Congratulations to the 2016 Chicago Lighthouse Scholarship Winners!

Scholarship Group 3_w Board and Management

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.

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Chicago Lighthouse Scholarships Help Launch New Careers

One of the biggest concerns for college students and their families is the cost of tuition, textbooks and housing. Students SV scholarwho are blind or visually impaired might have additional expenses, such as assistive technology, readers or any other materials that will help them succeed in the classroom. On Saturday, July 25, The Chicago Lighthouse awarded 39 scholarships to blind and visually impaired students from Illinois, Michigan and South Carolina. The various career paths they chose were as diverse as their backgrounds.

This year’s scholarship recipients are seeking majors in various fields. These include nursing, Sports and Health Psychology, Computer Information Science, General Education, Social Work, Audiology and neuroscience, just to mention a few. Awardees come from many prestigious colleges and universities including Columbia College in Chicago, Rush University, Florida Atlantic University, George Washington University, Missouri State University and the University of Phoenix.

Maureen Reid is a Job Placement Counselor and the scholarship coordinator at The Chicago Lighthouse. She says that one of the qualities she found most impressive about several of this year’s recipients is their willingness to embrace new challenges and go out of their comfort zone.

Michal Nowicki is totally blind and will begin studying law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. During his undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois in Chicago, Nowicki took several challenging courses, including a graduate Spanish phonology seminar and a highly visual Russian film class. He is fluent in Polish and Spanish and hopes to help his clients with his ability to speak several languages.

Other students discovered their career paths after studying abroad. Alexandra Futty’s passion for Caribbean history and literature led her to study in Trinidad and Tobago. To help cover her expenses, Alexandra began working at the country’s only school for the blind. While there, some of the students told her they had never met an adult with a significant visual impairment.

Alexandra is now pursuing a career in teaching young visually impaired students at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL. Although the scholarship she received from NIU will cover all of her studies, it will not cover the various assistive technology devices she needs. For that reason she turned to The Chicago Lighthouse.

Maureen says that one of the unique aspects about the Chicago Lighthouse’s scholarship program is that the funds can be used to cover all types of expenses blind or visually impaired students might encounter. These include readers, assistive technology, public transportation, mobile apps or any other piece of equipment that will enable them to succeed academically.

According to Maureen, another unique aspect about the program and ceremony is that scholarship recipients have the opportunity to network with each other and their donors. She says that this can help both students and donors alike.

“You develop a relationship and rapport as soon as you find out who your donor is,” she said referring to the connection that is made after students meet the donors that made the scholarship possible.

The Chicago Lighthouse Scholarship Program was established in 2004, and to date has provided over $800,000 to more than 390 blind and visually impaired students. To be considered for a scholarship, applicants must be college undergraduate or graduate students. Preference is given to students who live or study in Illinois, although anyone from throughout the United States may apply. Please note that if awarded a scholarship, recipients must attend the awards ceremony which is generally held the third or fourth Saturday in July.

The application for the Chicago Lighthouse Scholarship Program is made available online in January. We at Sandy’s View will keep you posted when the 2016 application process begins!

Congratulations to all the outstanding 2015 Chicago Lighthouse Scholarship recipients, we sincerely wish you the best of luck in school and beyond!! Finally, Maureen and everyone involved in organizing the awards ceremony would like to thank the students, donors, and Chicago Lighthouse staff for attending and making this year’s ceremony a success!