Belsky & Horowitz, LLC is proud to host an annual scholarship aimed to help students obtain a higher education. The Fall 2021 submission period recently came to a close, and we were humbled by the applications we received. Thank you to every student who applied!
We’re pleased to announce we’ve chosen a winner.
Congratulations to Helen Chen of Brooklyn, New York!
Helen will be attending Columbia University.
This was the essay topic:
2020’s COVID-19 pandemic made us rethink numerous ways we, as individuals and as a society, live and function. What’s the biggest positive lesson the pandemic taught you, and how does that lesson inform your life now?
Here is Helen’s winning essay:
After two intense hours of algebra problems, I concluded my Zoom meeting with my younger cousin Alice.
When quarantine was implemented, my local library closed as well. In my neighborhood, the library served as a major resource hub for students outside of their schools. Here, students receive access to various critical services including Wi-Fi connection, silent study spaces, and youth programmings. For me, it was essential. It was a haven for me to use computers when my internet goes haywire, study without any distractions, and support immigrant parents and children during our Sunday reading workshop.
As a frequent library go-er, I felt as if I had lost connection to an integral lifeline.
When Alice called, I knew that feeling of loss was shared. For her, the struggles with remote learning compounded with troubles at home and having to adjust to high school. Noting Alice’s dispiritedness, I began calling her more often; soon, it became a routine weekly call. We worked on difficult algebra and biology questions, discussed daily life, and ended calls with a dose of empowerment.
By setting up weekly calls with her, I provided both academic support and space for her to share her stories. During a time of incredible isolation, a safe, peer-mediated space was vital. When the semester came to an end, Alice’s grades, especially math, saw immense gains.
This experience motivated me to spearhead Project Inspire, a youth-oriented mentorship organization for low-income primary school students in New York. Writing has been nothing less than a remedial medium for me and through organizing this initiative, I sought to provide a haven for diverse stories to flourish. With my team, we designed a summer curriculum, paired mentors and mentees, and organized a virtual story-reading event.
At our first Story Exchange Festival, I learned about amusing water park adventures, magical fairies, and tender confessions of identity. As I listened to these stories, a slew of emotions wavered within me. Their stories were in many ways, a refined representation of their raw emotions and experiences. It was striking to me how the audience was connecting to a part of their life through the verbal articulation of sentences stringed together into words. Yet, too often, low-income students are left behind in the educational system; even when they are positioned to be in the direst need of better resources and opportunities, they often get the least.
As I listened to these young narrators discuss the reasoning behind their stories, I once again felt the power of community. Community is an extension of my identity. It is where I can find solace through belonging. Even for completely fantastical stories, I connected with the narrator because we all belonged to a community of storytellers. This community is not defined by boundaries but connected through a shared love for the magic of words. Whether it’s my family, friends, educational advocacy, or writing, I belong to various dynamic communities, and these communities, in turn, define my multifaceted identity.
My community of library volunteers created joy in creating programs for young kids and bilingual parents. My community of YCteen writers and mentors elevated my voice in my continued advocacy for Asian-American representation, whether that’s sitting down to discuss the Model Minority Myth or publish an article on Asian xenophobia. My school community includes club members that pushed for the publication of the first school newspaper and teachers who believe in my potential to succeed. My communities deserve immense credit for shaping the present me.
As a first-generation college student, I plan to use my college education to contribute to the call for educational equity. While pursuing my interest in literature, I hope to double major in computer science, where I can gain the technical skills to build an accessible, extensive learning platform for low-income students and advance women leadership in the STEM field. With Project Inspire impacting over a hundred kids, I hope to build upon my momentum.
Having had experiences volunteering through my library community and my community at Project Inspire, I have become more acutely aware of the continuing disparities in modern education, disproportionately affecting low-income students of color. As a first-gen, I am grateful for the village of support that helped me land space in the Columbia blue. Now, I want to give back to these communities with unequivocal support. Community service is a path of sympathy and discovery. It is recognizing that an equitable society requires collective effort. It is a willingness to put idealism into action
Congratulations again, Helen!