Brentwood High School seniors Eduardo Escobar, left, J. Emiliano Gudiel...

Brentwood High School seniors Eduardo Escobar, left, J. Emiliano Gudiel and Katherine Cruz received scholarships from the Community Scholars program launched by Northwell Health. Credit: James Carbone

One teen dreams of becoming a veterinarian. Another hopes to design and build a unique car. A young woman, the first in her family to graduate from high school, has her eye on business marketing.

All three will have a better chance at that future through a new $5 million scholarship program aimed at helping teens in four underserved communities on Long Island. Without it, all three said they would never be able to afford higher education.

The Community Scholars program launched this year by Northwell Health is providing $19,000 scholarships to 100 high school graduates in Freeport, Hempstead, Bay Shore and Brentwood. The money can be used for a two-year associate degree or certification program at Suffolk County Community College or Nassau Community College, as well as books, food and public transportation.

Starting in September, the program will focus on another 40 students — 10 at each of the high schools — beginning in 10th grade, to give them the mentoring and support they need to graduate and prepare for college. If they stay on track, they also will be eligible for the $19,000 scholarships. The program hopes to help 330 students by 2026.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A new scholarship program is helping about 100 students from Freeport, Hempstead, Bay Shore and Brentwood attend college in the fall. 
  • The new Northwell Community Scholars Program provides $19,000 to teens in these underserved communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic to help obtain an associate degree or certification program. 
  • The program will expand to a group of 10th-graders at each of the four high schools starting in September. 

“We believe education is a key social determinant of health,” said Dr. Debbie Salas-Lopez, senior vice president of Community and Population Health at Northwell Health. “It’s a gateway to not only health and wellness but to employment opportunities and financial success.”

Salas-Lopez said children from communities of color and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods — such as the four areas that were selected for the pilot program — have been disproportionately impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the scholarship program is the brainchild of Northwell CEO Michael Dowling, who has publicly discussed his own struggles growing up in poverty in rural Ireland.

Salas-Lopez said students in the program will be assigned mentors and have opportunities to shadow people in fields they are interested in.

“It is also important to address and help them with their unmet social needs, which are often a barrier for them to complete their higher education,” she said. “Some of our kids need laptops, transportation and food because many work to support themselves and their family members.”

Newsday visited Brentwood High School recently to speak with three of the scholars. Each plans to attend Suffolk County Community College in the fall.

Eduardo Escobar

Eduardo Escobar works in an auto mechanic shop and has still...

Eduardo Escobar works in an auto mechanic shop and has still maintained good grades, school officials said. Credit: James Carbone

Escobar came to the United States from El Salvador about two years ago with his sister and uncle after his mother was killed. It was her dream that her son attend college.

“I feel more safe, and there are better opportunities,” Escobar, 18, said when asked about his move to the United States.

He works in an auto mechanic shop while going to school full time and still has maintained good grades, school officials said.

He said he will pursue a degree in auto mechanics, something he would not have been able to afford without the scholarship. Escobar loves sports cars and hopes one day to design and build his own. 

“My family is so excited,” he said.

Katherine Cruz

Cruz came to the United States two years ago from Honduras, where she said she had no chance to even attend high school. Despite the challenges of being a teen mom, Cruz has juggled her studies and working — winning the admiration of school administrators and counselors.

Katherine Cruz came to the U.S. two years ago from...

Katherine Cruz came to the U.S. two years ago from Honduras. Credit: James Carbone

Still, she battled with her confidence and was almost ready to give up on her plans for college and go back to work full time before she learned she won the scholarship.

“I feel really happy,” said Cruz, 17, who aims to explore a career in business marketing. “I know I can do this.”

J. Emiliano Gudiel

Gudiel has been in the United States for only about a year, after arriving from Argentina to stay with his father.

In that year, he has maintained a high grade-point average while working, studying, improving his English and spending time with his younger brothers.

“I came here for better possibilities,” Gudiel, 18, said. “I could have never have paid for a university in my country.”

J. Emiliano Gudiel is planning to work toward becoming a...

J. Emiliano Gudiel is planning to work toward becoming a veterinarian. Credit: James Carbone

He was pleased but shocked to learn he had been named a scholar and said he is grateful for the chance to pursue his passion for animals and become a veterinarian.

“I love animals,” said Gudiel, adding he was inspired by the heartbreaking plight of dogs and cats living — and dying — on the streets in Argentina.

Committee selected winners

Seniors who applied for the scholarship were required to have a GPA of 80 or higher, show financial need, write an essay, be interviewed and submit two letters of recommendation. The winners were reviewed by representatives from the high schools, the two community colleges and the Long Island Community Foundation, which is administering the scholarships for Northwell. The final decisions were made by Northwell.

The scholarship winners are required to attend college classes full time and maintain a minimum GPA of 80. 

Melissa Ferguson, a counselor at Brentwood High School, said the three winners are the kind of students who will benefit greatly from the scholarship.

“They each have a unique story,” she said. “They all have obstacles they overcame, have good grades, are well-liked by their peers and motivated."

The scholarship is expected to cover 85% of tuition, which is $2,900 a semester at Nassau Community College and $2,735 a semester at Suffolk County Community College for state residents.

Salas-Lopez said Northwell hopes to partner with other corporations to expand the program to more schools and students in the coming years. Bank of America already has pledged $250,000 to help the scholars purchase laptops and other necessities.

"That's how I did it," said Salas-Lopez, who grew up in the South Bronx and holds both a medical degree and a master's in public health. "My first degree was an associate degree in medical lab technology ... I'm living proof that when you give kids a chance, you motivate them, stay with them, support them, they can achieve anything they put their minds to."

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