2021 Scholarship Recipients
Six outstanding local high school seniors were honored this month at Community Crossroads in Atkinson, NH, and each honoree was awarded a $750.00 scholarship. These outstanding student leaders achieved positive change that resulted in a more welcoming and accessible community for people of all abilities. The honored recipients included Alexa Fitzpatrick from Timberlane High School, Joelle LeBlanc and Colleen Peters from Pelham High School, Michael Levesque from Windham High School, and Hope Occhipinti and Sophia Staganelli from Salem High School.
Alexa Fitzpatrick – Timberlane High School
A dedicated supporter of community and school inclusion, Alexa fostered a positive and welcoming environment at Timberlane High School to ensure students of all abilities enjoy a sense of belonging. As President of her high school’s Best Buddies program she led an effort to bring students with and without disabilities together. Alexa created meaningful opportunities for students to build social connections and friendships. When the program had to go remote due to the pandemic, she planned virtual opportunities to combat the isolation she and her peers were all experiencing. Alexa has an exceptional ability to connect with her peers and make those around her feel accepted and valued which she demonstrated in a unified physical education class for kids with and without disabilities. She plans on pursuing a degree in exercise science and creating a more inclusive community where people with and without disabilities can enjoy accessible fitness activities.
Joelle LeBlanc – Pelham High School
Inspired by family members Joelle demonstrated passion for the health and well-being of others by serving as a hospital volunteer to assist post-operative patients. For three years she also demonstrated outstanding leadership in support of a research project in which she collected well water samples to be tested for toxic substances that can cause disabilities in children and/or pose a danger to the community. Upon completion of the project she presented the findings during a televised town selectman meeting in hopes of increasing awareness and educating the public. Joelle is a poised, dedicated, and articulate advocate and public speaker who plans on pursuing a career in nursing so she can continue to help people of all abilities access the care they need to live a healthy life.
Colleen Peters – Pelham High School
Given her interest in sports Colleen wanted to share her abilities as a competitive swimmer and her zest for running with others. In an effort to ensure kids of all abilities have opportunities to enjoy sports and learn about competitive swimming, Colleen joined a local Special Olympics team and mentored her peers. Learning how to communicate in alternative ways was challenging at times, but as the group became more familiar with each other it became easier and friendships blossomed. Colleen also helped foster the talents and confidence of others demonstrated in her leadership role as volunteer junior coach with the local Girls On The Run program. Her coaching and commitment to empowering girls and use of creative physical activities helped a group of middle schoolers develop healthy habits and acquire important life skills.
Michael Levesque – Windham High School
As a dedicated volunteer in his faith community, Michael fostered a more welcoming and accepting environment where people with and without disabilities feel at ease and have opportunities to contribute. Taking initiative, he recruited and led a group of his fellow teenage peers in a collaborative project. Michael’s creative design ideas and quiet leadership direction resulted in a beautiful nativity scene that was enjoyed by the congregation. As a person who experiences multiple disabilities, Michael knows the importance for faith communities to value diversity and take an inclusive approach. Inclusive faith communities benefit when people with disabilities can explore and share their spirituality, creativity, and leadership with others. Michael plans on pursing a business degree and will strive to implement inclusive business practices.
Hope Occhipinti – Salem High School
Providing care to others is personal for Hope. She discovered this passion after her grandfather lost his leg due to a blood clot. By his side, she assisted with daily living activities while offering lots of encouragement and support. It was such a meaningful and fulfilling experience that Hope went on to join her school’s Key Club where she volunteered at a local adult care program where she provided support and assistance to aging seniors, some who experienced physical disabilities and others who experienced Alzheimers. Hope also has also distinguished herself through her contributions and leadership in a child care services program where she supported a youngster who experienced Autism. With patience and time, the child developed enough trust to begin communicating with her by taking Hope by the hand to show her what s/he wanted. From these experiences, Hope discovered people with and without disabilities want and need many of the same basic things in life. She also realized people must have access to needed support and care in order for them to live a full meaningful life. Hope plans on pursuing a career in nursing.
Sophia Staganelli – Salem High School
For years Sophia’s actions and leadership have fostered a more welcoming and accepting culture in her school community. Years ago she observed a group of students reject a fellow peer who experiences Autism. The peer had a ritual of introducing him/herself to other students and asking to be friends. Routinely students would quickly turn him/her down or just ignore him/her altogether. Sophia decided to step in and speak up. She quickly greeted the peer and accepted the friendship invitation. Seven years later they are still friends and Sophia truly understands that friendship matters to all students. Sophia displayed courage as a leader by speaking up when other peers would say and do cruel things. She demonstrated exceptional leadership by fostering acceptance and diversity of others. As President of her school’s Best Buddy program and member of the Students Understanding Real Friendships (S.U.R.F) she worked to create opportunities for students with and without disabilities to make meaningful social connections.
Congratulations to this year’s scholarship recipients!