BATAVIA — Four seniors — one from Livingston County and three from Genesee County, are the recipients of 2022 Mary Anne Graney Memorial scholarships, administered by Arc GLOW. The $1,000 scholarship award recipients, Kyle Verdaasdonk, Jenna Gilbert, Gavin Smith-Crandall, and  Kelsey Stewart, are planning to pursue careers related to healthcare or working with people with disabilities.

Verdaasdonk, a Pembroke Junior-Senior High School student, will attend Genesee Community College to pursue his teacher assistant degree with a concentration in developmental disabilities. He is a member of the Pembroke Dragons unified bowling and basketball teams, assisting athletes on and off the court. He is also a volunteer in a special education classroom and is described by the classroom teacher as a great motivator and positive role model. In his scholarship application, Verdaasdonk said each student has a unique and inspiring personality.

“The whole experience has had an amazing impact on me – so much so, that I want to make this my career,” he said.

At Pembroke, he has also participated in track and soccer, is a member of high school chorus and his church youth group.

Gilbert, of Oakfield-Alabama Middle High School, has been accepted to SUNY Brockport to study nursing, with plans to continue her education to become a pediatric nurse practitioner. She has volunteered for YMCA Challenger Sports, Arc GLOW’s Friends & Family 5K, Down Syndrome Parent Support Group, learn to swim programs and for her town’s local clothing and food pantry. A member of Genesee Valley BOCES Health Careers Academy, she is also a member of National Honor Society, Varsity Club and the Hornets softball and swim teams. Gilbert is a certified lifeguard and has certifications in first aid, CPR and AED.

In her scholarship personal essay, she said besides her experience with people with a variety of disabilities through her volunteer work, she is fortunate to have grown up with a cousin, two friends and classmates with Down syndrome.

“Having them in my life has truly been a gift, and help shape me into the person I am today,” Gilbert said.

Smith-Crandall, an Alexander Middle-High School student, plans to become a speech therapist and will begin his studies at Genesee Community College. A member of the Trojans football and wrestling teams, Smith-Crandall also studies auto body trade at Genesee Valley BOCES and works for his grandfather’s construction business.

In his scholarship application, the senior shared a story of a family member born with a traumatic brain injury and as a child could not communicate. With the help of speech therapy, he is now able to talk.

Arc said Smith-Crandall’s career choice of helping people with disabilities was also influenced by his mother, Molly, who has worked at Arc GLOW since he was a toddler.

“Through my mom, I learned that people with disabilities want the same things as people without disabilities. They want to feel valued, listened to and that they matter…they want jobs, friends, family and fun things to do in the community,” he said, adding, “If I could help a family learn to communicate with a loved one, it would mean the world to me.”

Stewart, a student at Livonia Central School, will attend Elmira College to study special education. Arc said her interest in becoming a special educator emerged after joining the T.I.E.S. club at school. T.I.E.S. (Together Including Every Student) is a club that seeks to integrate children with special needs by attending school and community events with them. Stewart volunteered in a special education classroom and in an adaptive physical education class.

At Livonia Central, she is also class secretary and a member of National Honor Society. She played junior varsity and varsity soccer, basketball and lacrosse.

“I hope to see a day where there is no longer a need for a club to allow students of differing abilities to be a bigger part of their community — because they have become so integral that there is no question they belong,” she said in her scholarship application.

The Mary Anne Graney Memorial Scholarship is presented to area high school seniors planning to further their studies in human services, special education or related fields. It is in honor of Mary Anne Graney, a special education teacher who died in 2004. The Friends & Family 5k, scheduled for Sept. 17 in Elba, funds the scholarship.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1