When The Loudoun Laurels Stewardship Trust formed in 2012, it was thought of as a neat bookend to the organization’s initial aim to recognize men and women who, for years, have worked to make the county special.
The vision of the scholarship program was to give promising young people needed financial help, as well as mentorships and other support, to make a college degree a reality.
The students who they seek out are, as The Loudoun Laurels co-founders Dan Marrow and Glenda Cudaback Morrow put it, diamonds in the rough. To help identify students’ worthy of the scholarships, they partner with CAMPUS, a Loudoun County Public Schools program primarily for would-be first generation college students.
Theresa Kurzeja, secretary for the CAMPUS program, said she advertises the scholarship opportunity to CAMPUS students, especially those who she knows could use the help and would put the money to great use.
“We try to help kids who we think will be good stewards in their community,” Kurzeja said, adding that the four 2016 scholars have already demonstrated as much.
This is the first year The Loudoun Laurels awarded four graduating high school seniors with scholarships. In all, the organization is supporting 11 scholars.
Each student receives $10,000 a year for four years if their academic record meets standards. So far all have found success; the very first Loudoun Laurels scholars are expected to graduate next year.
The scholarships are funded by the May Family Foundation, Middleburg Bank in honor of Chairman Joseph Boling, friends and supporters of J. Hamilton Lambert, the Wyatt Family Foundation and a group of donors who prefer to remain anonymous.
Meet the 2016 scholarship winners:
Briar Woods High School
Hamilton Lambert Scholar
Cardora Barnes doesn’t necessarily want her daughter to take after her, at least in one aspect.
“Be different,” she told her. “Set a new trend for the family.”
Jenae Barnes is doing just that. She will be the first in her family to attend college when she enrolls in Northern Virginia Community College next month.
During her mother’s formative years, she was engrained with one message: Get a job and work hard at it. Earning a degree wasn’t on her radar. “There wasn’t the money, the support, or even the mindset to go to college,” Barnes said.
But Jenae has had higher education on her mind since she was a freshman in high school when she joined CAMPUS, a Loudoun County Public Schools program designed to equip students who are on their way to be first-generation college students.
Through her involvement in CAMPUS, Jenae toured various colleges and universities, traveled to Austria with the George C. Marshall International Center’s Student Partnership Exchange Program, and was mentored by Loudoun Laurel Eugene M. Scheel. It also put her in the running for a Loudoun Laurels’ scholarship.
“CAMPUS changed the course of my high school years,” she said. “It got me thinking about college. And like they say, the rest is history.”
From NVCC, she plans to attend University of Richmond and study social science. She’s not sure where her career path might lead, but she’s adamant about landing a job she loves. “I really want to do something I’m passionate about,” she said.
Her mother is all for that, saying, “I don’t want her to get a job just to have a job. I want her to actually enjoy what she does. She’s on her way to do that.”
Jenae said she wants to set an example for her cousins, to show them that college and meaningful work is attainable.
“Listen up, family,” she said with a wide grin. “The bar has been set.”
Briar Woods High School
Hamilton Lambert Scholar
“At the end of the day, it’s just about family.”
That’s how 17-year-old Sumeet Saini describes his priorities, after a decade of ups and downs that included his parents’ divorce and unexpected financial struggles.
His family was used to a fairly comfortable lifestyle, before his father and mother split, leaving him, his sister and his mother with little. They moved from their large house into a small apartment, and as soon as he was old enough, Sumeet applied for a job. He works 20 to 30 hours a week as a produce clerk at Harris Teeter.
“Sumeet has really pulled his weight without even being asked,” said his mother, Sunita K.
“Most kids around here don’t usually have to fall asleep thinking, are we going to make the rent? There goes my piggy bank,” Sumeet said. “Those things add up and make life hard.”
Knowing that he wanted to go to Christopher Newport University and study political science, he applied for several scholarships. At the insistence of his mother, Sumeet took the night off to attend the senior awards ceremony just in case he won the Loudoun Laurels’ scholarship. “I thought, knowing my luck, I didn’t win anything. But I did—totally worth taking the night off work,” he said.
Sumeet’s dream job is to work either as a diplomat or a political campaign manager. Of the diplomat job, he added, “It’d be kind of nice knowing you did something that could stop other people from suffering.”
Among some of Sumeet’s other recent accolades, he won the Jordan Schafer Award for his support of the Briar Woods crew team. He once competed on the team and now mentors the younger athletes and helps out the coaches. He credits his family and his friends—specifically naming Matt Pompilio and Owen Murphy—for where he is today.
“All this made me a stronger person,” he said. “I learned the value of hard work, of family and friends. And I’m going to keep those lessons with me the rest of my life.”
Dominion High School
Hamilton Lambert Scholar
When Ngozi Akingbesote was told she needed to make sure she attended Dominion High School’s senior awards night last month, her mother thought she might be in trouble.
“She said ‘what did you do?’” Akingbesote said. “I definitely didn’t think I won anything fantastic.”
But she did. The 18-year-old won a J. Hamilton Lambert Scholarship, part of The Loudoun Laurels program, securing her $40,000 over four years. “I almost screamed when I heard my name,” she said.
Ngozi grew up in Abuja, Nigeria, and moved to Loudoun with her mother four years ago where she excelled in school, especially in science. She wowed judges at the Loudoun County Regional Science Fair in March with her research on fungal infections, prompted by the issues she saw in her home country.
But she wasn’t sure how she would pay for continuing her education.
“But my mom said, God will come through and it will work out,” she said. So she accepted the offer to attend University of Virginia. “I didn’t know where the money was going to come from, or how it was going to come. But it came.”
She plans to double major in neuroscience and political science, and go on to medical school. She would love to return to Nigeria and do her part to introduce modern medical practices.
Ngozi said she never regrets moving to the U.S. “Coming here was kind of like a beautiful experience, a beautiful opportunity—a better opportunity to be successful in life. Someday, I’d love to return home, share what I’ve learned here and make a difference.”
Woodgrove High School
Wyatt Family Scholar
Dina Tinta has always had an eye out for the underdog.
“It’s like I’m drawn to people who are less fortunate or are having problems,” she said. “I just want to help.”
She’s provided that help in many forms. She volunteered at an Ecuador orphanage last summer. She helped start the We’re All Human Club at Woodgrove High School to help youth struggling with mental illness, and led the effort to form a Funds in Need school club to support kids with cancer.
Dina also is a frequent help to a Spanish-speaking family in Purcellville. She tutors the kids and helps translate for the parents. “I give the kids a book a week and make them read it over and over again so they can improve their pronunciation. And I’ll have the parents sit with them so they can work on their English,” she said.
But there came a time when she was the one who needed a helping hand. Leading up to her high school graduation, her father’s work hours were cut back. So she filled what time she could spare with shifts at Lowry’s Crab Shack in Hamilton, as she set her heart on University of Virginia.
“I was really stressed out. I worked a lot, and wore my UVA shirts in hopes that customers would give bigger tips,” she said with a laugh. “It worked, actually.”
She applied for more than 30 scholarships, and won several of them, including the Wyatt Family Scholarship, part of the Loudoun Laurels program.
Now, that scholarship money will serve as a vehicle to continue her lifelong passion, to help others in need. She plans to major in biological science and go into fertility science.
“I’ve always been drawn to babies, especially what mothers go through for their babies. I’ve always been attracted to that,” she said. “Once I get something in my head I’m passionate about, I want to do my part to help. I hope to have a great impact on my community, wherever I am.”