The First Responders Children’s Foundation, which runs the Luis Alvarez...

The First Responders Children’s Foundation, which runs the Luis Alvarez fund, announced that Kacey Pupo would receive the $25,000 college scholarship. 

Credit: Courtesy Joanna Black

For years, NYPD Det. Luis Alvarez and Lt. Christopher Pupo worked side by side protecting New Yorkers as members of the department's elite Emergency Service Unit.

Their stories would merge again, both in acts of bravery and unspeakable tragedy. Both first responders were mainstays during Ground Zero's rescue and recovery operation, and each paid the ultimate price for their sacrifice, succumbing years later to cancer from their time working on the smoldering wreckage.

Now the legacies of the two NYPD officers, who gave their lives for the city they were sworn to protect, have come together: Pupo's daughter has become the third recipient of a scholarship named in memory of Alvarez, an Oceanside native.

The First Responders Children’s Foundation, which runs the Luis Alvarez fund, announced Friday that Kacey Pupo, 18, of Rockland County, would receive the $25,000 college scholarship.

"Even when my dad was diagnosed with cancer, and even when it got really bad, he didn't stop working," Pupo said of her father, who also served with the Coast Guard in Afghanistan in 2010 as part of an NYPD deployment prior to his death in 2012. "And it's one of the things I admire most about him. He really did not let anything stop him from doing what he loved most."

The college scholarship, first announced in 2019, goes to the children of Sept. 11 first responders sickened from Ground Zero recovery work. It is expected to cover up to $6,250 a year or $25,000 over four years, according to Jillian Crane, president of the First Responders Children’s Foundation.

The scholarship is expected to be funded indefinitely, she said.

"The first responder community is really still suffering from 9/11-related illnesses," Crane said. "And more first responders have died since 9/11 than died on 9/11. It just keeps growing and it's a terrible tragedy. ... But it's not just the first responder. It's the whole family who sacrifices."

Some of the funding for this year's scholarship comes from an unlikely source.

The Oceanside High School graduating class of 1970, which celebrated their 50-year reunion last month — twice delayed because of the pandemic — collected $14,000 for the fund.

“It’s an Oceanside story that everyone can relate to and that everybody lived through,” reunion chair Mindy Farber, 70, of Potomac, Maryland, said of Alvarez. “We wanted the money to go to a really good cause.”

Alvarez, 53, a father of three and former Marine, died of liver and colorectal cancer in 2019 connected to his work at Ground Zero. 

Just weeks before his death, he testified in a televised appearance in Washington, D.C., about the $7 billion Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund amid congressional resistance to its extension. Alvarez testified with activist and comedian Jon Stewart, with both pleading to lawmakers to extend funding for health care benefits for first responders.

The advocacy work was successful, and then-President Donald Trump signed legislation in 2019 to replenish the fund, which helps people who developed serious illnesses after responding to the terror attack. The money is due to last until 2090.

Farber and other members of the Oceanside class plan to give a check later this month to Alaine Alvarez, Luis’ widow, at a park in Oceanside named in his honor.

Luis "would be elated," Alaine Alvarez said of the scholarship fund. "He would be so happy to know that the children of 9/11 victims are being taken care of."

The $14,000 was raised, in part, from 185 former students who attended last month's reunion. Dozens of other graduates, who had already paid to attend the reunion but were unable to travel to Long Island, told Farber to donate their money for the fund, she said.

The money is the first to go to the scholarship fund from sources outside of the foundation, Crane said.

"It's an amazing thing when people come together to care for and highlight the work of the first responder community, because so many people forget," Crane said.

Wendy Seay, 70, of Charlottesville, Virginia, a member of the Oceanside graduating class, said Alvarez's story "resonated" deeply with her.

"We all grew up ... during those years watching the World Trade Center being built and opened," Seay said. "And a lot of us, being New Yorkers, were touched in both real and emotional ways to the events of 9/11."

The class of new septuagenarians is no stranger to high-profile public gestures.

In June 1970, the nearly 800-student Oceanside class invited then-Rep. Allard Lowenstein, a Democratic anti-Vietnam War lawmaker from South Nassau, to serve as its commencement speaker. The Oceanside school board and principal, however, rescinded the invitation, arguing that his presence would spark too much controversy.

"I decided it would be a disruptive factor to our graduation," Principal Stephen Poleshuk told Newsday in 1970.

In protest, 175 students held their own counter-graduation ceremony at a Long Beach movie theater where Lowenstein handed out alternative diplomas. The story garnered national attention from TV networks and an editorial in The New York Times.

"There's just something special," Farber said, "about this class."

For her part, Pupo plans on continuing her father's legacy — and that of the scholarship's namesake — by devoting her life to public service.

She will study forensic sciences at Loyola University in Maryland in the fall and expects to pursue a career as a forensic psychologist in the FBI.

"Pursuing this path allows me to live my life through the values my father instilled in me, but in my unique way," Pupo wrote in her scholarship essay. "I am not the girl who lives every day without a father. I am the girl who carries out her father’s legacy in her own way — a way that makes it my own."

For years, NYPD Det. Luis Alvarez and Lt. Christopher Pupo worked side by side protecting New Yorkers as members of the department's elite Emergency Service Unit.

Their stories would merge again, both in acts of bravery and unspeakable tragedy. Both first responders were mainstays during Ground Zero's rescue and recovery operation, and each paid the ultimate price for their sacrifice, succumbing years later to cancer from their time working on the smoldering wreckage.

Now the legacies of the two NYPD officers, who gave their lives for the city they were sworn to protect, have come together: Pupo's daughter has become the third recipient of a scholarship named in memory of Alvarez, an Oceanside native.

The First Responders Children’s Foundation, which runs the Luis Alvarez fund, announced Friday that Kacey Pupo, 18, of Rockland County, would receive the $25,000 college scholarship.

"Even when my dad was diagnosed with cancer, and even when it got really bad, he didn't stop working," Pupo said of her father, who also served with the Coast Guard in Afghanistan in 2010 as part of an NYPD deployment prior to his death in 2012. "And it's one of the things I admire most about him. He really did not let anything stop him from doing what he loved most."

‘An Oceanside story’

The college scholarship, first announced in 2019, goes to the children of Sept. 11 first responders sickened from Ground Zero recovery work. It is expected to cover up to $6,250 a year or $25,000 over four years, according to Jillian Crane, president of the First Responders Children’s Foundation.

The scholarship is expected to be funded indefinitely, she said.

Jillian Crane, president of the First Responders Children’s Foundation.

Jillian Crane, president of the First Responders Children’s Foundation. Credit: Dave Sanders

"The first responder community is really still suffering from 9/11-related illnesses," Crane said. "And more first responders have died since 9/11 than died on 9/11. It just keeps growing and it's a terrible tragedy. ... But it's not just the first responder. It's the whole family who sacrifices."

Some of the funding for this year's scholarship comes from an unlikely source.

The Oceanside High School graduating class of 1970, which celebrated their 50-year reunion last month — twice delayed because of the pandemic — collected $14,000 for the fund.

“It’s an Oceanside story that everyone can relate to and that everybody lived through,” reunion chair Mindy Farber, 70, of Potomac, Maryland, said of Alvarez. “We wanted the money to go to a really good cause.”

NYPD Det. Luis Alvarez, left, and Lt. Christopher Pupo worked together...

NYPD Det. Luis Alvarez, left, and Lt. Christopher Pupo worked together in the department's Emergency Service Unit. Credit: Newsday/NYPD

Alvarez, 53, a father of three and former Marine, died of liver and colorectal cancer in 2019 connected to his work at Ground Zero. 

Just weeks before his death, he testified in a televised appearance in Washington, D.C., about the $7 billion Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund amid congressional resistance to its extension. Alvarez testified with activist and comedian Jon Stewart, with both pleading to lawmakers to extend funding for health care benefits for first responders.

The advocacy work was successful, and then-President Donald Trump signed legislation in 2019 to replenish the fund, which helps people who developed serious illnesses after responding to the terror attack. The money is due to last until 2090.

Farber and other members of the Oceanside class plan to give a check later this month to Alaine Alvarez, Luis’ widow, at a park in Oceanside named in his honor.

Luis "would be elated," Alaine Alvarez said of the scholarship fund. "He would be so happy to know that the children of 9/11 victims are being taken care of."

‘Something special about this class’

The $14,000 was raised, in part, from 185 former students who attended last month's reunion. Dozens of other graduates, who had already paid to attend the reunion but were unable to travel to Long Island, told Farber to donate their money for the fund, she said.

The money is the first to go to the scholarship fund from sources outside of the foundation, Crane said.

"It's an amazing thing when people come together to care for and highlight the work of the first responder community, because so many people forget," Crane said.

Wendy Seay, 70, of Charlottesville, Virginia, a member of the Oceanside graduating class, said Alvarez's story "resonated" deeply with her.

"We all grew up ... during those years watching the World Trade Center being built and opened," Seay said. "And a lot of us, being New Yorkers, were touched in both real and emotional ways to the events of 9/11."

The class of new septuagenarians is no stranger to high-profile public gestures.

In June 1970, the nearly 800-student Oceanside class invited then-Rep. Allard Lowenstein, a Democratic anti-Vietnam War lawmaker from South Nassau, to serve as its commencement speaker. The Oceanside school board and principal, however, rescinded the invitation, arguing that his presence would spark too much controversy.

"I decided it would be a disruptive factor to our graduation," Principal Stephen Poleshuk told Newsday in 1970.

In protest, 175 students held their own counter-graduation ceremony at a Long Beach movie theater where Lowenstein handed out alternative diplomas. The story garnered national attention from TV networks and an editorial in The New York Times.

"There's just something special," Farber said, "about this class."

For her part, Pupo plans on continuing her father's legacy — and that of the scholarship's namesake — by devoting her life to public service.

She will study forensic sciences at Loyola University in Maryland in the fall and expects to pursue a career as a forensic psychologist in the FBI.

"Pursuing this path allows me to live my life through the values my father instilled in me, but in my unique way," Pupo wrote in her scholarship essay. "I am not the girl who lives every day without a father. I am the girl who carries out her father’s legacy in her own way — a way that makes it my own."

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