The , together with Wilson and Sue Cooper of Palo Alto, handed out more than $100,000 in scholarships to 43 local students at the 5th annual YMCA Cooper Scholarship Dinner on Saturday night.
The students, who hail from , , and several other local high schools, each received $2,500 to put toward college expenses at the school of their choice.
Wilson and Sue Cooper were on hand to greet the grateful families and join them for a catered dinner in the YMCA gymnasium, before Scott Glissmeyer, executive director of the Palo Alto Family YMCA, handed out the awards.
“A little more than 50 years ago, I received a scholarship to college, and it made a big difference in my life,” Wilson said, and described how the memory of that event stayed with him throughout his college career and instilled in him a sense of wanting to go on and do good for others.
He said, however, the night was not about him and his wife.
“The students are the key to this,” he said. “I’ve been reading their [scholarship] applications for over five years, and I am continually impressed by the contributions you all make in school, outside of school, and to your families and communities. I’m delighted to stand here tonight.”
As the families ate dinner, Glissmeyer greeted the crowd and introduced the night’s scholarship winners.
Ten of this year’s 43 students were first-time recipients of a YMCA Cooper Scholarship, and 33 were previous winners who had their scholarships renewed.
The 10 new recipients for 2011 were: Angela Li, Sweta Bhattacharya and Rachelle Goodrich-Gere of Helen Butler of ; Nathanael Denys and Andrew Oseguera of Carlmont High School; Kyrillos Shakid of Woodside High School; and Jorge Gonzalez, Francisco Lopez and Irvin Romero of Sequoia High School.
“We are thrilled that this unique scholarship opportunity is making such a positive impact on so many local teens,” said Glissmeyer, as he named a few of the 33 different colleges from all across the country that previous winners have gone on to attend.
“We owe so much gratitude to the program’s founders, Wilson and Sue Cooper, and the support of our community members. Without them, we would not be able to provide critical financial assistance to these extraordinary students, as they pursue higher education.”
As Glissmeyer presented the scholarship awards to the 10 new recipients, he spoke a bit about some of the obstacles each student overcame to excel academically and give back to their communities.
Helen Butler from Palo Alto High School lived with her family in North Carolina and watched her family struggle after her father lost his job, until he was offered a position here in the Bay Area and they moved. She credits her 10-year-old brother, who struggles with autism, as her biggest inspiration in life, and has just started biology classes at Virginia Tech in hopes of starting a career in autism research.
Rachelle Goodrich-Gere of Gunn High School is an emancipated minor who supports herself financially, and said the scholarship will help her continue to support herself as she starts classes in baking and pastry arts at Johnston and Wales University on the East Coast in the fall.
In addition to partnering with the Coopers to facilitate the yearly scholarships, the Palo Alto Family YMCA partners with DreamCatchers, a program in which undergraduates help teens be successful in school. Together, the Family YMCA and DreamCatchers operate the Ventura Teen Center to develop educational and leadership opportunities for teens, and help prepare them for college. At the Teen Center, students can get help with homework, receive academic tutoring, research potential careers and arrange college tours.
As part of the program, a select number of teens from the Palo Alto community are chosen to receive YMCA Cooper Scholarships each year. The recipients are outstanding, motivated students from a diverse background who demonstrate integrity and perseverance in overcoming adversity, strength of character, a commitment to pursuing a college education and financial need, and have a proven record of educational accomplishments.
“This is one of my favorite nights of the year,” Glissmeyer said to the audience. “It’s not often we get to hear good news in the world these days. This is something good we can all be thankful for.”