Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Scholarship Awards to Stratford Students


Bruce Carr Activist Awards and Rotary Foundation Winners

Each year the Stratford Rotary Club awards scholarships either through the Bruce Carr Activist Awards, or through the Rotary Foundation.  Students not only submit a resume of their accomplishments, but an essay.

The recipients for the 2024 AWARDS follow:

(Names marked with an E behind it indicate that the student has shared their winning essay with Stratford Crier readers).

BUNNELL Bruce Carr Activist Awards:

Barem Alfreh (E)

Kayla Johnson (E)

Candace Mack (E)

Chloe Samson (E)

First Place Bruce Carr Activist recipient – Madison Thomas-Ferguson (E)

Rotarian Mike Suntag and Rotary Foundation Vocation Tech recipient for $1,000 – Ellie Belinke

Rotary Foundation Academic award for $3,000 – Madison Thomas-Ferguson.

Baeram Alfreh 3/10/2024

Senior Scholarship Essay

One of my most proud accomplishments is learning the English language. In Syria, I was an excellent student, so after we arrived and settled in the United States, I faced a huge challenge: the English language. Even though I only knew a few words, my ambition and determination drove me to master the language during that first school year. I spent long hours reading words and writing them many times until I memorized them. After that, I started reading stories that I borrowed from school and the library. In less than two school years, I finished the ESOL program. In sixth grade, I received the President’s Award of Outstanding Academic Achievement and began developing my reading level by studying books related to history and literature. In eighth grade, I again achieved recognition for Outstanding Academic Excellence in the President’s Education Awards Program. I was also chosen to write a short story that was published in a book by Young Writers, Survival Sagas Mission Contamination Tales from Connecticut.   My hard work resulted in dozens of recognitions, and I continued to strive for improvements in reading, writing, and content knowledge until I excelled in all my classes. I have taken the most challenging English classes available, including AP Language and Composition and the UConn Writing Seminar. I am also the Student Representative to the Stratford Board of Education, which puts me a long way from where I started. I’ve learned from my experience that anyone who studies and puts forth effort has the opportunity to succeed. I appreciate everyone who has helped me and supported me along the way.

From a financial standpoint, the scholarships will be invaluable because my household income is low. Even though my parents are college graduates, they are unable to find employment that would utilize their degrees because they cannot obtain the verification documents from the University of Damascus in Syria.

Scholarships will take a huge weight off my and my parents’ shoulders because it will allow my family to avoid taking on loans and incurring debt. My parents are the crown of life on my head; their smiles mean everything to me. They are the ones who inspired me to pursue higher education, and after all the sacrifices they made for me and my sister, I want to be able to pay them back somehow.

Scholarships will also give me a safety net and allow me to focus on academics rather than the financial burden of my continuing education and needing to find work while studying. It will also motivate me to study hard and push to finish my education with the best grades.

I have learned to be thankful for all the opportunities in my life, and this scholarship will be a blessing and an opportunity that I’m very grateful for

Thank you very much to the school and committee for giving us the chance to build our futures.

Kayla Johnson

Accomplishments and goals are the journey that each human takes. The journey is quick for some and long and treacherous for most. The journey to one’s final goal is often the focal point of one’s life. Whether it is happiness, financial stability, or a good career. Goals and accomplishments go hand-in-hand with one another. The biggest accomplishment for someone is to accomplish life long or short term goals. The best goals to achieve are the ones that you have worked towards for a long time.

My accomplishments range from sports, clubs, speeches, and other forms of extracurricular activities. To start off, I have been a track and field athlete since I was in my sophomore year of high school and that same year I qualified for and competed in SWC championships, State Championships, and State Open Championships, and I have qualified for each championship since then, up until my senior year. I helped my Powderpuff Football team to victory against our rival team Stratford High earning the Town Champions award. I lead my basketball team in rebounds, steals, and blocks on my Girls Basketball team.

In addition to sports, I have been selected to be the Athletic Assistant Graphic Designer and Photographer for my school’s Athletic Department. I won the Stratford Rotary First Round 4 Way Speech Contest and will be advancing to the next round. I have received numerous scholarships and acceptances from universities such as Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Memphis, and many others. I have participated in clubs including: InspirED Club, Living in Color Club (Volunteering) as a Social Media and Marketing Committee member, and People of the Islands Club as Vice President. Beyond high school I wish to attend a Bachelor degree to become a Multimedia Reporter with a Sports concentration. In addition, I would love to gain a certificate/degree in medical administration or ultrasound technician; I want to operate a non-profit, start my own fitness training app or apparel line, and create content based on the careers listed above.  In conclusion, I have accomplished a few goals I set out to achieve and I am immensely proud of myself. However, I know that my work here on this earth is far from done. That is what sets me apart from the rest, is that I never give up even when times get tough. I always put my best foot forward and then some. I make sure that even if the goal is not accomplished in the time allotted, I make sure I still work to the best of my ability to accomplish that goal. I know that God has a plan for me and that just because I did not do or accomplish what I wanted to in that time, does not mean that it will never get done. Everything happens when it is supposed to and I have learned too that accomplishments will always be awarded to those who are patient and persistent.

Candace Mack

Senior Scholarship Essay March 2024

In the chaos of 2020, amidst the shutdowns, COVID, politics, and racial tension in America, I felt overwhelmed and voiceless. Not only had I lost my aunt early in March but my father was unjustly accused of a felony. When his mugshot appeared on the news, I felt utterly defeated. It was as though the walls of my house were transparent, exposing our struggles to the world while everyone else continued their online classes.

Determined to never feel voiceless again, I immersed myself in school culture, aiming to positively impact my community and stand out in a meaningful way. This led me to create Living in Color during my sophomore year, providing a safe space for students of color to share their experiences. LNC has now expanded to Flood and Wooster and we partnered with the B.O.E Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Department creating the P.I.N.K.Y Program, which nurtures future leaders at Johnson House.

Throughout high school, I’ve also participated in various clubs and activities. From the Marching Band, where I held leadership roles like Drum Major, to serving as the Class President all four years. But my most memorable experience has been organizing the Cultural Showcase. Although stressful, working with different students and witnessing the entire student body unite was truly incredible.

Beyond Bunnell, I dedicated over 200 hours to serving my community, while working part-time jobs. In my freshman year, I started volunteering at the Library. This led me to serve on the Library Board as the Youth Liaison and also assist in creating the Teen Advisory Board. As a member of the Interact Club, I facilitated the Rotary Next Generation Conference, engaging in diverse conversations with students statewide. Currently, I work 20-30 hours a week at Chick-fil-A.

But I started at the Salt Marsh, where I contributed to a restoration project, collaborating with government officials, and passionate environmentalists. I’ve also worked for the Town of Stratford, as a camp counselor and Official Checker during elections.

Despite the challenges of being involved in many extracurriculars, I’ve remained committed to academic excellence, enrolling in several AP and ECE courses to best prepare me for college. After graduation, I want to continue my passion for education and social psychology. As an aspiring teacher, I am committed to advocating for all students. Bunnell has shown me what good educators look like while also allowing me to create an environment where I feel comfortable.

The financial support provided by scholarships would not only relieve my family’s financial strain but also allow me to pursue my aspirations without compromise. For the past four years, legal expenses have weighed heavily on my family, particularly my mother, who became the sole provider when my father lost his job. My mother is also paying for my sister’s student loans, adding more financial barriers. I am thankful for the opportunity to apply for these scholarships and I’m excited to start the next chapter of my academic and personal journey.

Chloe Samson


As a candidate vying for recognition by the Scholarship committee, it’s essential to highlight unique accomplishments that distinguish me from other applicants. In my case, one particular achievement stands out as a testament to my dedication, innovation, and impact within my community.

One of my most significant accomplishments revolves around the hardworking and successful track season of my high school career. I competed at my first ever Class L State Championship for Indoor Track, for 2 events, Long Jump and the 4×2 relay race.

My goal since the beginning of the season was to compete post-season in the events I had most improved in, this was just a relief for me because ever since I joined the team I was determined to compete post-season or to break the school record for Long Jump, which I was so close to achieving but fell short by 2 inches. With only being on the Indoor Track and Field team for 2 years, I have conquered a lot of challenges and improved so much through the help of my coaches pushing and encouraging me to do my best, they stood by me and gave me great advice, especially while being a Captain they expected discipline and someone who athletes can count on.

This experience has given me great friendships and bonds. I can prove to you that my athleticism has come a long way from being an alternate for SWCs, to actually competing and making the State Championship. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to receive Athlete of the Month for the month of February from Indoor Track. It was shocking when I found out I was selected for this recognition, and I knew from then on that my hard work had paid off and my school could recognize my dedication and pride to this team. Because of this recognition, lots of people in and outside of school would come up to congratulate me or potentially think of joining the team. The one interaction that stood out to me is that at a basketball game the Chief of Police in Stratford, saw my achievement and wanted to take a picture with me beside my award. Words couldn’t describe how I was feeling inside that someone from the community, whose job is to keep everyone safe recognized who I was as a person and an athlete.

While many applicants may possess impressive academic records or extracurricular achievements, my unique accomplishment sets me apart by showcasing selflessness and dedication, while also balancing school work, clubs, etc. I’m proud to say that with all the stuff I achieved from extracurriculars and schoolwork I am on a 4.0 scale GPA of 3.66.

To finish off, my unique accomplishments stand as a testament to my commitment to effecting positive changes and making a difference in the lives of others. Through leadership and community engagement, I have demonstrated my potential to excel academically and athletically. I am confident that my accomplishments and aspirations make me a deserving candidate for recognition by the Scholarship Committee, and I am eager for the opportunity to further my education and continue my journey of making a difference.

STRATFORD HS Bruce Carr Activist Awards

Yarisa Tejada (E)

Kelsie Welch (E)

Casey Caretta (E)

First Place Bruce Carr Activist recipient – Kathnie Fabre (E)

Rotarian Mike Suntag and Rotary Foundation Vocational/Technology recipient for $1,000 – Roseangel Zayas (E)

Rotary Foundation academic awards for $3,000.each- Kelsie Welch and Mia Nierenberg

Kathnie Fabre 3/1/24

What does it mean to be an activist? Honestly speaking it isn’t something that I consider myself. I speak up for the people as much as I can but an activist is a lifestyle and that is simply dedication that I know that I do not fit into the category of. (As of late).

I have had a whopping 16 extracurricular activities over the course of four years here, 2 of which were after school jobs, 3 being sports, 1 that I managed and 2 that I was the captain of. Now of course these 5 things aren’t going to matter when I leave High School, very few things that I do here will. There are of course things that I do that will however. I could go on and on in a list but luckily for the both of us I have other things to talk about.

Activism is speaking out to bring a change in society, at least that is what it is to me. I don’t follow the book definition but I follow what seems right. It doesn’t necessarily have to change the world but it can change your world and the worlds around you and still have an active difference in this world.

What has made a difference in my world was being able to be Class President, and I’m sure it made a difference in what other people were viewing the council as, as well, now we have an active council that actually get along and running for presidency was one of the most difficult things I had done (at the time) I had to really go out there and sell all the great reasons and examples that I wanted this position and in the end I did get it which I am forever grateful for.

There were just so many things that I wanted at the time and this time I want something for me, to get a speech at graduation but I digress.

Growing up I was never afraid to use my voice, never hesitant to fight back or argue with anybody and I think that’s what got me in trouble the most to this day. This reckless mouth, but I think it also comes in handy sometimes. I said one time at the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that you have to be comfortable with getting uncomfortable or nothing is going to get done and or no change will occur. These are some wise words I heard from a television show by the way. The last part I did improvise, a lot of people were uncomfortable with things I said but it made them listen to what was most important. Whether they agreed or disagreed they heard it and it stuck with them, which was my ultimate goal.

I am always ready to embrace the new and what I did at that panel was embracing the new, I wouldn’t go as far as calling myself an activist but I would one thousand times over start with an advocate. I did advocate for my club and for my peers at that panel and we have had a lot of things riding against us since the beginning of the creation and yet the beginning is never the end. We are still here and still standing.

During the outbreak of the Pandemic I was a middle schooler, in 8th grade. The pandemic was a time where it was dangerous to live in, simply just being around people outdoors and indoors and also being black. I asked my friend how many people he thinks died of Police brutality in the year 2020. He answered 1,000. The answer was 164 and this is even inaccurate because I know the list is missing some names,.the fact that we assume that there would be more than this is a problem enough in itself. We should not be desensitized to the murders of innocent people. When asked off the top of your head what are some of the people who died that year and my friend named 2. I named 3, nevertheless we did name 2 of the same people Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery. I didn’t expect us to memorize the list but the fact that we can’t even name 5 names is a little sad to me.

We as a society are addicted to social media, we see what’s trending and at the time these deaths were trending. People needed something else to occupy their brains with other than the viral disease that was Covid-19. The problem is we only start to care when we see it on our screens constantly. Just because it isn’t on your screen anymore doesn’t mean that it went away. I think being an activist is speaking up even when you are scared of backlash.

I went to a Systemic Racism Panel my junior year of high school and I still have the lanyard and book of poems. For this panel I ate all the snacks I got in my goodie bag but my point got across for both. We need to make a change in society, and I think it all starts with us.

The change could be something small; volunteering at a local soup kitchen, making Thanksgiving kits for the less fortunate, giving out any change you may have to the homeless person in front of a store. Taking the time out of your day to make a difference in someone else’s can be activism in a sense. We can all be activists, but we will never know if we truly are. If freedom isn’t accessible to all it is accessible to none.

Yarisa Tejada
20 February 2024

Bruce Carr Memorial Student Activism Award

¨Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat, but it’s something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles.¨ – Abbie Hoffman.

When I first heard this quote by Abbie Hoffman, I realized how vital it is for each person to fight alongside each other to promote these human rights and freedoms that our country proudly holds. Looking back, I always knew that I wanted to be of aid in public service for the people. One might see the government in a negative light. I see things differently. After careful deliberation, I am confident that being an active member in one’s community is, without a doubt, the right thing to do. I can reflect on my AP Government and Politics class for providing this understanding.

For some backstory of who I am, I am a first-generation student from two immigrant parents originating in the Dominican Republic. I am in the top 10% of my class with a GPA of 4.0 and have aspirations to major in public health with a pre-med pathway.

At this moment in time, Hispanics make up 5.8% of physicians. I am on the way to increasing that statistic. I want to go into medicine to serve and commit myself to the care of people. I desire to demonstrate love and compassion for people in need in this field.

Some activities within my community that I feel demonstrate my commitment to democratic values are PINKY; a mentorship program where I mentored roughly 25 underprivileged 6th graders to underachieving students, being a member of the black student union; spreading  awareness promote different aspects of inclusion, yearly neighborhood cleanups; such as the beach cleanup and playground cleanup, and helping at election polls.

Doing these activities mean the world to me; it only takes one person to make a difference in your life. I remember even from my own childhood that one neighbor who helped me understand multiplication, or the security guard at my elementary school who always greeted me with a smile. It gives me the opportunity to make a difference for others, even in the smallest ways. The opportunity to be something bigger than myself. To be a small part in a big whole. Whether it even be helping in smaller events such as the great pumpkin festival held yearly in Boothe Park collecting tickets, or setting up and helping out during art night at Second Hill Lane Elementary School, or even spreading love through letters and cards at nursing homes. I am dedicated to being an active member in my community. To making a difference.

Kelsey Welch 3/1/24

In 2019, the Boy Scouts of America started allowing young women to join their organization. I was thrilled to be a founding member of Stratford’s first all-female troop. My 5- year scouting career was marked with camping trips, hikes, conservation projects, summers spent outside and adventure. This momentous journey in my life has sparked my interest in environmental protection and has taught me the importance of gender inclusivity.

The adventures I experienced through Scouting have shaped my love for the outdoors and have led to my interest in environmental science. They also encouraged me to give back to my community and local ecosystems when I was planning my Eagle Scout project.

My Eagle Scout project was one of the last requirements that I needed to complete before earning the rank of Eagle. I wanted to create a project that gave back to the Stratford Community and benefit the environment. I eventually decided to build and install Carpenter Bee Houses along Stratford’s Coastal Dune System. This project was especially important to the community because it allowed alternate areas for bees to inhabit. Previously, Carpenter Bees had been exterminated in the area because they were building nests in the siding of homes.

The bee houses that I built encourage bees to move away from areas where they are at risk of being harmed and into areas where they are beneficial to the environment. This project has promoted pollination in a part of Stratford that is key to some migratory species.

My project was not only beneficial to the environment, but also furthered my leadership and communication skills. I worked with other scouts, adult leaders, and community members to build a project proposal, receive approval, and execute the project of Carpenter Bee Houses.

My involvement in Scouting reached further than the Stratford Community. In 2020 I joined my local chapter of the Order of the Arrow that serves Fairfield and New Haven County. This organization is considered to be the Society of Honored Campers. In June of 2022, I was voted into the position of Vice Chief of Program. I was the first female scout to ever hold this position and during my year long term, I was the highest-ranking female scout, being the 3rd ranked person on the leadership team. While in this position I was able to promote more diversity in our organization and my position allowed me to work towards inclusivity within my organization. I have also spent the past three summers as a resident camp counselor at a Scout camp.

In September of 2023 I was pleasantly surprised when I was presented with the Town of Stratford Beautification Award for my Eagle Scout project. This honor is generally presented to homeowners who have strived in their efforts of property beautification. After being presented with this award, I began to notice more public areas being developed and receiving recognition by the Beautification Committee. I enjoy knowing that other community members are receiving recognition for their commitment to conservation and beautification.

I have been accepted to Villanova University with a major in Environmental Science. I plan to continue my involvement in environmental protection through my education. After I finish my undergraduate degree, I plan to go to Law School. I will use my education to work towards a more sustainable future for the environment.

Casey Carretta 3/1/24

What Activism Means to me

Since I was a little girl I have gone around my home turning lights off when my parents leave a room. Since we first watched a video about how to help our environment in second grade, I have been aware of human impacts on the environment. I vividly recall learning the basics of recycling and how electricity makes it to my home and being so fascinated with it all. Since then I have wanted to do something to make a change and my desire has only grown.

As I got older, I began seeing more and more things that grabbed my attention like this.

Topics at school got more in depth and began revealing issues to me. I saw how the discrimination we learned about affected those back then and my friends right now. My middle school history class opened my eyes to the economic issues in the world. I saw how poor some places were and learned about how many don’t have access to clean drinking water.

I never thought a kid like myself could ever change the problems I saw. However, getting on social media helped me begin my journey to help. I began to see posts in 2020 on just about everything from the Black Lives Matter movement to the Willow Project. I saw the digital petitions and began to sign them. It was amazing seeing so many people come together to fight for change and justice. I began sharing and reposting many posts to spread the word to friends and peers at school.

I have continued doing so even now. I see things about events going on in Gaza and Congo or social issues in America like Project 2025. I continue to listen and empathize. I continue to share and do what I can. I have also been volunteering at my local community center to make local changes. I have participated in events that concern the issues I care so much about. We have held events during MLK day and black history month to educate and raise awareness. We have also done many things to improve the local environment like planting flowers, cleaning the beaches, and cleaning the marshes.

The program also allows us to help those in need by preparing Thanksgiving meals and holding toy and candy drives. Recently I have begun getting more involved in the program by suggesting different service projects. For example, I want to organize an event where we plant trees and clean up the surrounding area. I also want to take charge in events that will teach youth about mental health and financial literacy.

I find it very important to contribute locally as well as globally. Both areas greatly affect everyone from people across the world to my family to myself. Initiating and creating change helps humanity and I intend on continuing this journey through college and my career. I want to discover new ways of helping and reinforcing the ways I already do. Change is important and never stops, so neither will I.

Roseangel Zayas

My name is Roseangel Zayas, I am a 17-year-old senior at Stratford High school. I am going to be the first in my family to not only graduate high school but attend college. Throughout high school, I faced numerous challenges and changes, but I managed to persevere and successfully get through them. Despite all difficulties I am focused on my goals and prepared to overcome any obstacles that come my way.

After high school I plan to attend Gateway Community College while working at my current job, Lord Chamberlain Rehabilitation Center. While at Gateway I plan to pursue sonography. As I transition to college, I am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. I am eager to embrace new experiences and continue my journey of learning and personal growth. Thank you so much for your consideration for this scholarship.

Madison Thomas-Ferguson

15 March 2024

Every school has that classroom. Its walls are adorned with decoration, from quirky historical timelines to social media-inspired projects, creating an atmosphere ripe with creativity. Birthday and graduation bulletin boards invite celebration, while plush sofas and bean bag chairs offer comfortable seating options. This room is where pillows seem to whisper secrets of intellectual thought.

Ironically, my journey didn’t start in the most vibrant room at school. In retrospect, I’m surprised how my passions found root in what initially seemed like an uninspiring environment. Stepping into this classroom, I was almost confused as to why I was here. The room was devoid of decoration and compact with dim fluorescent lights with rows of identical, drab desks.

But I stayed, drawn by the promise of a new club–Living in Color. Despite my underwhelming surroundings, the club’s potential intrigued me and it wasn’t long before blandness transformed into a hub of activity, fueled by the energy of its diverse members.

In just a year, Living in Color was a powerhouse for female students of color, offering mentorship opportunities, kinship, and platforms for advocacy. I had found my own special place. Who would have thought?

It was a no brainer when officer elections came.

I was ready.

With the club being primarily new, I found the extent of my role as Secretary in various fields such as marketing, assisting in writing grant proposals to local organizations, and representing the club at various conferences/interviews. For two years (and counting) I have committed myself to building and nurturing the foundation of the club and its members.

Public relations is maintaining the public image of a company, organization, and/or individual. Living in Color has taught me the importance of using my education to further my skills of representation as well as broadening my worldview. My goal to pursue public relations blossomed from my aspiration to enhance spaces and make meaningful changes.

In the media, it’s unsurprising when I see patterns of important works belittled to a negative light. Those that see an ugly, average classroom instead of a beautiful space that gives way to oppo1tunity. I mean, imagine if I turned around that day simply because of how the classroom looked?

As a public relations major, I plan to shaipen my skills in all aspects of communication in order to act on behalf of important causes and to eliminate any reason for negative worldview on beneficial objectives.  Financially, scholarships would be substantial to my educational/professional pursuits.

Coming from a single parent household with two college tuitions thrown into the mix, this support would enable me to focus more on my studies and less about financial constraints. Furthemore, a lack of student debt would enable me to focus on the impact I want to make in my career instead of allowing the stress of making a large amount of money affect my career choices.

In addition this year Stratford Rotary added a new scholarship, the Rotary Family Award which now will be awarded to a Stratford Rotary club member’s child graduating from high school.

Rotary Family award for $2,000.-  Zohar Rosenburg


  1. Thank you to all who were involved with this incredible showing by our 2024 HS Seniors who show through their actions our greatest hope for a better future. Read their essays, as they are an antidote to naysayers about how we all can get to a better, more-loving world. Thanks for the support of the Stratford Rotary and the coverage of Stratford Crier coverage. Want to see what dedication by our teachers achieves? Here is a good start. Godspeed all of our graduates. Bruce Carr would be proud of his association with these young activists.


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