PEF supports education, members’ families with 2020 Joseph Scacalossi scholarships
By KATE MOSTACCIO
Many students anticipate their final year of high school or their first year of college for years, expecting traditional rites of passage and festivities. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing all that to change, with requirements to social distance, plans to learn remotely and bans on gatherings.
One thing that has not changed is that PEF continues to ease the financial burden for 10 students through the yearly Joseph Scacalossi Scholarship program.
PEF launched the program, named after a highly respected council leader at the state Department of Labor in New York City, in 1988.
Every year, PEF awards $1,000 annually for four years to 10 students. The students, children, stepchildren, or wards of any active, retired, or deceased PEF member, must be high school seniors or first year students in college.
This year’s committee was Sheila Ambrose, chairperson; members Andrew Youngs, Maddie Shannon-Roberts, and Joseph Ugino; and Joanne M. Wright, PEF support staff. The scholarship committee reviews applications and selects winners by blind scoring.
“COVID has altered everyday life and the review process for the scholarships was no different,” Ambrose said. “We had to totally rethink how we could complete our review. Our team of four committee members had to figure out ways to get all of the scoring sheets filled out and how to get that information back to the folks who do the tallying.”
In prior years, the committee would get together in one place and spend six or seven hours on the blind scoring process. This year, each member worked on their own, Ambrose said.
“This was really different for me,” she said. “It was harder to do in a vacuum and it certainly took longer. We all are still committed to reading every single one that we received: scoring them, being fair, taking into consideration every word.”
In this climate, financial assistance can sometimes make or break a student’s ability to attend a college.
“This year, especially, people will really appreciate that little extra that they can get,” Ambrose said. “For me, this year had a different impact as I went through the score sheets.”
Committee members reviewed 146 applications this year.
“As judges, we take this role very seriously,” Ambrose said. “We’re honored to be able to do this and show how PEF supports its members and their children. I’m proud to be a PEF member and proud to chair this committee. The same goes for the others on the committee.”
Biographies for each winner for 2020 are listed in alphabetical order. This year, we also asked the students how they have been impacted by COVID-19.
Julia Beck, the daughter of Wendy Sievenpiper (Buffalo Psychiatric Center), graduated from Buffalo Seminary and she is attending Northeastern University for bioengineering this fall. She was a Cum Laude and Connect Life Scholarship recipient. Julia was editor-in-chief of her high school yearbook, president of the National Honors Society and “peach seed” editor of Peach Magazine, a poetry publication. She was a member of the varsity squash team and captain of the sailing team; a Model UN and Mock Trial participant/officer; and a student writer for The Buffalo News NeXT section. Julia interned at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, donated hand-knit hats to cancer patients, was Connect Life president, a school ambassador and a volunteer for 716Squash. She loves to spend time with friends, knit, and practice squash and sailing.
“COVID-19 definitely threw me a curveball these past months. I didn’t get a final sailing season, I didn’t get the graduation ceremony, steeped in tradition, that I was expecting, and my first semester at college has been interesting, to say the least. There has been constant uncertainty, but I am grateful to be back in school, and to have received this scholarship.”
Loralai Crawford, the daughter of Andy Crawford (Audit Control), is a 2020 graduate of Wellsville High School and is attending the University of Rochester, majoring in biomedical engineering on a pre-med track. She received a number of scholarships, including the Society of Women Engineers Scholarship, the Beta Sigma Phi Sorority Scholarship, the Wellsville Area Chamber of Commerce Kailbourne-Allen Scholarship, the Gamma Phi Military Award, the Dollars for Scholars Allegany County Area Foundation Belva A. Waite Memorial Scholarship, the Wellsville Secondary School SADD Scholarship and the Wellsville Secondary School Student Scholar Award. Loralai was involved in LEO’s Leadership Club and was selected to participate in the New Visions Health Professions Program during her senior year. She was president of SADD and Student Council. Loralai was a member of the Wellsville High School Acapella Ensemble (WAVE); Musical Theater (Lead in 10th grade); JV (co-captain and MVP defense 10th grade) and Varsity Softball; Varsity Swimming (Dedication Award); Varsity Track and Field; Travel Softball – Southern Tier Elite and Wellsville Diamond Dawgs; and Club Swimming – Genesee Valle Aqua Jags (Ironwoman award). She volunteered at Wellsville Elementary School, Trinity Lutheran Church, Wellsville Creative Arts Center – Wellsville Community Gardens, Operation Christmas Child, Wellsville Boys Swim Team, Jones Memorial Hospital and helped younger swimmers on the Aqua Jags club swim team. Loralai enjoys watching movies and medical TV series in her spare time.
“Ultimately, the COVID-19 pandemic has given me more than it has taken. Although I lost the end-of-year bonding experience with my small class of 82, the sense of community within my community grew tremendously. When needed the most, the leaders of Wellsville united to plan a socially distant graduation demonstrating their love and care for their local class of 2020. The experience taught me what community really means; I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
William Davis, the son of Melissa Davis (DOCCS Parole Board), is a 2020 graduate of Westhill High School in Syracuse and is studying business at Boston College in the Carroll School of Management. He received awards from the National Honor Society, serving as treasurer in grades 11 and 12; the Spanish National Honor Society; the Tri M Music National Honor Society, serving as secretary and treasurer in grades 11 and 12; the 2020 President’s Outstanding Academic Excellence Award; the George Eastman Young Leaders Award; and the 2020 Westhill Booster Club Scholar Athlete Scholarship. William participated in Varsity Track, Wind Ensemble, Jazz Ensemble and Ski Club throughout his high school career. He was a member of the Drama Department Crew and the NYS Prevention Network, Teen Institute Youth Staff, in grades 11 and 12, and is an Eagle Scout. William enjoys playing the trombone, running, and spending time with his friends, family and dogs.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic led to many disappointments, as most of my long-anticipated senior year celebrations were cancelled, it also made me more aware of how fortunate I have been throughout the years. I am taking the ‘new norm’ in stride and making the most of the opportunities at Boston College to meet new people and get involved in the activities that are currently available on campus.”
Julianna Grenci, the daughter of Frank Grenci (State Insurance Fund), graduated high school during the pandemic and is attending Seton Hall University to major in political science and law this fall. She received multiple scholarships from academic and volunteer organizations; was in the Top 25 students in her graduating class; and served as class president for three years. During her high school career, Julianna was a member of the National Honor Society, the Tri-M Music Honor Society, the Foreign Language Honor Society, Students For A Better World and Student Government. She was on the varsity swim team since eighth grade; played JV and varsity basketball throughout high school; was on the St. Kilian’s CYO Swim Team for four years; and participated in Renaissance Club, Chamber Orchestra and NYSMMA. An active Girl Scout for 13 years, she is working on her Gold Award Project. Julianna volunteered with the Town of Babylon Aquatics Department, participated in Compassion Without Borders Leadership Conference, attended the L.E.A.D. Orlando Conference, participated in HOBY NY Metro, and was an American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program delegate. She enjoys swimming, spending time with her friends, going to the beach and reading.
“COVID-19 has definitely changed my life. My senior year ended abruptly and I was left with the questions of if I will graduate or even have a senior prom? There were so many scary unknowns. Now, as I start my first semester of college, I am faced with the question of if I’ll be able to continue living on campus, or will I be sent home? Regardless, I will overcome, and I will succeed.”
Rachel Habib-Wells, the daughter of Victoria Wells (OPWDD Central NY DDSO), is a 2020 graduate of Jamesville-DeWitt High School in Syracuse. She attends Cornell University and has been awarded a Cornell Tradition Fellowship for public service, academic achievement, and strong work ethic.. She is studying human development with a concentration in neuroscience, and hopes to become a physician. Rachel is a recipient of the Jewish National Fund Impact Fellowship – an eight-week study/leadership training program in Israel. She also received the George H. Ball Community Achievement Award for “integrity, academic excellence, diversity, leadership, service, and social responsibility.” She is a level nine Junior Olympic gymnast and a two-time New York State High School Girls Gymnastics Championships Qualifier. She has earned six Varsity letters in gymnastics since seventh grade, was a Section 3 first place team member for five straight years, and the captain of the team last year.
Dominic Licata, the son of John Licata (retired, Department of Emergency Services and Homeland Security), is a 2020 graduate of Williamsville South High School and is attending the State University of Buffalo to study mechanical engineering. He received the Pride of NY and the Jolly Boys of Williamsville Community Services scholarships and was a member of the National Honor Society, concert band, marching band, summer community band and the Boy Scouts of America, where he achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. Throughout his high school career, he volunteered at the Amherst Library, St. Gregory the Great Church, Coasts for Kids, St. Mary’s School for the Deaf and Oishie Children’s Hospital. He also partook in numerous Eagle Scout service projects. Dominic enjoys museums, walking on nature trails, camping, swimming, boating, hiking, playing the drums, working on his computer, building projects, watching movies, vacationing, reading, and hanging out with friends and family.
“COVID-19 has changed my life by limiting my social access to friends and people I care about. The end of senior year we missed out on awards dinners, prom, band banquet and many other celebrations we looked forward to. College classes have been mostly online, which makes it harder to communicate with others. It has been very hard to meet new people which has changed the true college experience.”
Jessemia Meekins, the daughter of Ann Franta (Workers Compensation Board), graduated fourth in her class from Binghamton High School and is attending Virginia Commonwealth University to study forensic science and chemistry this fall. Jessemia received the Binghamton Patriot Educational Scholarship, the Binghamton Teachers Association Scholarship, the Delta Sigma Theta Dorothy Garner Memorial Scholarship, the Marie Obrtlik Memorial Scholarship, a Dollars for Scholars scholarship, a Bausch & Lomb scholarship, the New York State Department of Education Academic Excellence Scholarship, the Raymond J Westgate Memorial Scholarship, the Tri-M Music Award, and the Eugene F. Crowley Scholarship. During high school, she was a member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society, orchestra, the Liberty Partnership, the National Honor Society, and the Math Honor Society. Jessemia was a member of the swim team, the Varsity B Club, the school newspaper and was the theater house manager. She volunteered in her community at the Discovery Center and at community events such as Thanksgiving dinner, the Easter egg hunt and Stand for Children’s Day. Jessemia enjoys her lifeguard job, hanging out with friends and cooking/baking.
“Entering into my senior year of high school, I was extremely excited for the traditions and memories that I would get to keep with me forever. Even with the unfortunate COVID circumstances, I was able to create heartfelt memories as a senior that I am very thankful for. As I now enter into my freshman year of college, fully online, I have a newfound appreciation for in-person learning and the contact with other learners.”
Delaney Munyan, the daughter of Jennifer Munyan (Workers Compensation Board), graduated from Averill Park High School with an advanced Regents diploma this year. Delaney will attend Pace University, focusing on global studies and peace and conflict resolution. She was a member of the National Honor Society; received the Kittel Community/Law Award for her community involvement; and received the Owen Sweeney Memorial Scholarship from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3 and the Pace University President’s Scholarship. During high school, Delaney participated in many clubs and associations, including A World of Difference; Student Athletic Advisory Council; Debate Club (Co-President); Masterminds (President); STOP (Students Together Opposing Prejudice) Conference (Co-Facilitator and district representative); and the Anti-Defamation League Peer Training Leadership Program (trainee). She played JV and varsity volleyball, holding the team record for aces; was a member of the Cosmic Crush Volleyball Club and the Uncle Sam Swim Team; participated in choir and the school’s Treble Choir and cabaret performances; and was a delegate for the Anti-Defamation League, traveling to Alabama and Georgia on a Civil Rights Mission Trip. Delaney volunteered at organizations throughout her community, including Equinox, helping provide 10,000 Thanksgiving dinners to individuals in need; the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society; Hope 7 Food Pantry; and the Sand Lake Town Library. She enjoys singing, volleyball, useless trivia and working at Panera Bread.
“Though COVID-19 presented me with challenges, it also tested my resilience. Having my senior year cut short was certainly disappointing, but I was impressed by the efforts of faculty, staff and neighbors to provide a memorable experience — parades, lawn signs, gifts, and more, plus a ceremony at the drive-in! Throughout this pandemic, communities have developed innovative solutions to challenges. And, even with ‘social distancing,’ COVID-19 has brought us closer — for that I am grateful.”
Blake Richards, the son of Mark Richards (DOCCS Gouverneur Correctional Facility), graduated in the top three of his class in 2019 with an advanced Regents diploma with honors and mastery in mathematics and science. Blake completed his freshman year at Clarkson University, where he is majoring in civil engineering with pre-PT studies, with a 3.85 GPA. He received the Clarkson Leadership Award and was a Presidential Scholar for both the fall 2019 and spring 2020 semesters. Blake was a percussionist in the high school and jazz band; was a member of the National Honor Society; and participated in the Pi Mu Epsilon Interscholastic Mathematics Competitions, FIRST Tech Challenges and FIRST Robotics Competitions throughout high school. At Clarkson, he is a member of the Bass Fishing Club and the FIRST Robotics Team 229. He played varsity hockey, soccer and golf in high school. He was awarded the NYSPHSAA Scholar Athlete; Athlete of Distinction in Hockey, in Soccer and in Golf; and the NYSPHSAA Outstanding Sportsmanship in Hockey. He volunteered as a junior coach for the Norfolk-Norwood Minor Hockey Association and for the Salvation Army. He has also been involved in community fishing events through Clarkson’s Bass Fishing Club and was a mentor for the FIRST Robotics Team 229. Blake enjoys fishing and boating.
“COVID-19 has changed my life mainly in the way college is run. It was an adjustment changing from in-person learning to all distance learning during the second semester of my freshman year at college. I ended up doing well academically despite the changes. I feel better prepared in my sophomore year knowing what to expect. This semester of college, I have a mixture of all in-person, hybrid and all online classes. There are pros and cons to all types of learning. I think the variety adds to the learning experience and makes it more interesting.”
Michael Sobol, the son of David Sobol (DOT), graduated as valedictorian of the class of 2020 from St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute and is attending the University of Pittsburgh as a student in the University Honors College, intending to major in molecular biology and linguistics. He received departmental awards in science, mathematics, German, and instrumental music, and was awarded a University Scholarship and the Kuzneski Alumni Recognition Scholarship from the University of Pittsburgh. In high school, Michael was a member of the concert band, jazz lab band, and pit orchestra, serving as president. He was involved in Science Olympiad and Chemistry Olympiad as a team captain and student leader, and completed a laboratory internship in the University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Michael competed in cross country and outdoor track and field, worked as a panelist for the SJCI Annual Political Debate, and served as a student leader in Campus Ministry and for the “Ripples of Hope” lecture series. He also served as a collegiate ambassador (Big Brother), as a peer tutor in STEM subjects, and as President of Food Basket, an annual service project. He was a member of the math team, the Brother Alexander Chapter of the National Honor Society, and the Brother Pompian Honors Academy. Michael volunteers with his parish through music ministry as an instrumental accompanist for weekly Masses and holy days. He has volunteered at numerous local Vacation Bible Schools, as well as at the middle-school level of Science Olympiad in the Lake Erie-Niagara region as an event supervisor. Michael enjoys distance running, reading classic novels or nonfiction works, playing jazz clarinet and saxophone, and volunteering in science education through the Science and Chemistry Olympiads.
“COVID-19 certainly upended my expectations for 2020. My time walking the halls of St. Joe’s with beloved friends and teachers disappeared overnight. Though we seamlessly shifted to online learning, I could never have envisioned leading club meetings over Zoom, engaging in ‘virtual’ summer runs with teammates, giving a valedictory speech from my living room, or taking college midterms from my bedroom! Amid this chaos, however, the importance of relationships and community has never been greater.”