SAN DIEGO – May 2, 2016 – San Diego Human Dignity Foundation (SDHDF) is partnering with PFLAG San Diego County to recognize nine deserving LGBTQ students from around San Diego County for their exemplary academic achievements and leadership vision at the 2016 Launching Leaders Scholarship Awards Luncheon on Friday, May 13, 2016 from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Corky McMillin Companies Event Center at Liberty Station.
The 2016 scholarship recipients include individuals who have not only overcome adversity, but proactively addressed challenges and barriers. Total amount awarded in 2016 is $15,000. Recipients are: Theodore “Teddy” Bruni (SDSU), Humberto Castorena (Olympian High School), Jacob Garrett (USD), Riley Gibson (Palomar College), Brandon Ishikata (SDSU), Jairo Leon (Cal State San Marcos/UCLA), Amanda Matheson (Canyon Crest Academy), Antonio Mendivil (San Diego City College) and McKenna Roudebush (Rancho Buena Vista High School). Funders of the scholarships include SDHDF, PFLAG San Diego County, The Rob Benzon Foundation as well as families and private donors. Scholarship criteria range from teaching-focused goals to ethics and individual triumphs in overcoming obstacles to scholastic excellence.
This year’s keynote speaker is Fernando Lopez, director of operations for San Diego LGBT Pride who is also an active advocate for LGBTQ student rights. “For decades community members have been working with and within the school system to create safer spaces for LGBTQ+ youth, and in the last year policy changes have finally begun to be implemented in ways that comprehensively support students through real-time bullying reporting, K-12 LGBTQ history education, staff dedicated to LGBTQ policy compliance, and more,” says Lopez. “The work is far from over, but if we remain vigilant and vocal within the next couple of years our region will have a school district where 17,000 faculty have received LGBT cultural competency training, and 130,000 students a year are living and learning in an environment that is not only safe for but supportive of the LGBTQ+ community.”
MEET THE 2016 HONOREES (presented in alphabetical order):
Theodore “Teddy” Bruni, Fourth Year
John McCusker Memorial Scholarship recipient
From Bruni’s essay: “After becoming motivated by my work with CMH Consulting, I became involved with a Chula Vista nonprofit named South Bay Alliance (SBA). This past summer, I was living in New Mexico because of an internship with the U.S. Department of the Interior. Despite distance, I committed over 100 hours of service to SBA from afar writing news releases and grants. When I returned in September 2015, all my work culminated into the Chula Vista South Bay Pride. I must say – the highlight was writing the proclamation speech for the mayor of Chula Vista to read the day of the event! My most recent SBA service project has been conducting LGBTQ Awareness Trainings for the community members of Chula Vista. Moreover, since transferring to SDSU, I have been a grant writer, intern, and creative writing teacher for an organization called Poetic Youth. During my internship, one of my goals was to facilitate a new partnership. Being so, I reached out to the Hillcrest Youth Center and started an ongoing series of creative writing workshops for LGBTQ youth.”
Humberto Castorena, Grade 12
Olympian High School
Stephen G. Bowersox Memorial Scholarship recipient
From Castorena’s essay: “I first expressed interest for my school’s Spanish Literature Club nearly two years ago. Although I initially joined as a regular member pursuing recreational interests, I soon ascended to the positions of treasurer and eventually president, and my involvement in the club became political: I’ve helped transform the club into a space that exposes folks to the culture and nuances of Latin America, and that attempts to fight the misconceptions of the region. When I hear fellow students talk about Mexico, it’s usually in negative contexts. The violence, the crime, the drug wars I don’t deny it nor attempt to cover it. What the club submits though, is that there is much more to Latin America than this skewed commentary. The club figures as a forum where we share our image of Latin America. As a club, we celebrate Latin American and Spanish literature and culture, including works written by fellow students. We also celebrate major cultural holidays, and in doing so invite the school to explore and learn about the nuances of the Latinx experience.” (Note: x = non gender specific.)
Jacob Garrett, Graduate Student
John Bessemer Memorial Scholarship recipient
From Garrett’s essay: “I moved to San Diego last summer to attend a Master’s program at the University of San Diego. After I secured my place of residency I immediately thought about meeting my future friends. I turned to what I know best and where I have met close friends: ballet. I started taking open classes at City Ballet of San Diego and within a week, I was working the front desk. It was through this position that I was given the opportunity to join a program sponsored by the ballet company, Discover a Dancer. The Discover a Dancer program teaches ballet to second graders at an elementary school located in a lower income neighborhood. The primary objective of the reoccurring educational program is to expose a classical art form to roughly 175 children that may not get the opportunity otherwise. The seven and eight-year-old students take an hour long class similar to a typical ballet class once a week for a full academic year. The program is extremely advantageous for the young students’ development and helps them cognitively, psychologically, and physically.”
Riley Gibson, Third Year
Palomar Community College
Rob Benzon Memorial Scholarship recipient
From Gibson’s essay: “After losing everything in my life that I thought I could never live without and going through the painful mourning process, living in extreme poverty, and walking among those who grew up with absolutely nothing has completely changed my worldview. I have seen the best of San Diego and I have seen the absolute worst. Despite living in San Diego all my life, there were so many places that I had never seen before. I was homeless and I had nothing, but things were different everything had a new flavor to it. I had started working at San Diego Pride in their Marketing & Communications department as a full time volunteer, and they gave me the gift of a bus pass. With this bus pass, I now had the freedom to do what I wanted, when I wanted. And that’s exactly what I did. Next thing I knew, I was doing my best to help organizing and attend every event surrounding Pride and transgender issues in Hillcrest possible. I had nothing better to do and no one wanted to hire me, so why not? It felt like I was actually doing something with my life, unlike working at a deadend retail job. For the first time in my life I felt happy and fulfilled, even in the absence of everything I once had. Occasionally reality would settle in and my stomach would sink upon realizing that I didn’t know where I’d be sleeping the next week, but my overall positive demeanor and drive to continue helping kept me going in spite of that. I found my home in grassroots and community organizing.”
Brandon Ishikata, Graduate Student
Mary Wagner Memorial Scholarship recipient and future educator
From Ishikata’s essay: “To continue my vision of making an inclusive world, I aspire to fulfill my childhood dream of being an elementary school teacher. In elementary school, I was a previous victim of bullying and understand the agony many LGBT youth face… With raising drop-out rates, it is vital that we educate our professionals on supporting our youth’s emotional needs. On a school wide level, I want to develop inclusivity initiatives such as a peer counselor program. In my personal teaching philosophy, I feel that students should leave my classroom learning not only the curriculum, but also strong character and citizenship skills.”
Jairo Leon, Graduate Student
Cal State San Marcos / UCLA
General PFLAG Scholarship receipient
From Leon’s essay: “I now aim to earn a Master’s in Student Affairs from UCLA because as a mission-oriented individual, I am dedicated to creating opportunities for underserved college students to build in capacity, resources, and knowledge. After working as a Peer Educator, I became particularly drawn to the work of multicultural centers in this field. These centers can uniquely address student needs, and advance student development, given their continuous and varied engagement with them. Indeed, the combination of co-curricular learning, leadership building, and community outreach in these student centers speaks to my own strengths and values. These programs ignite and nourish essential self and societal exploration, while also increasing retention and graduation rates, as they elevate the overall student experience.”
Ash Matheson, Grade 12
Canyon Crest Academy
2016 Richard P. Geyer Memorial Ethics Scholarship recipient
From Matheson’s essay: “Being both transgender and the sibling — as well as tutor, mentor, caretaker, and friend — of an older brother with disabilities, I learned from a young age the pain of being labeled as different. I suppose it was this aspect of my experience that allowed me to form such a close bond with my brother, Jacob. He, too, was different, alienated from the world of the typical by a wall of cerebral palsy, autism, ADD, and OCD. Despite being one of the most intelligent people I knew, he could never quite believe this: all he could ever see was his own superficial inferiority in nearly every aspect of life, from physical strength to test scores. Yet we both found solace in art. From books to drawing, we found a means of escape, of understanding ourselves and others, in the world of art. It was these observations that led me in the eighth grade to realize that there was something vital missing from our community: a program for older students with disabilities to explore interests in the arts, express themselves, and interact with peers. And so I decided to create just such a program. And, after hours of planning, research, filling out of forms, networking, advertising, fundraising, and organizing, during my sophomore year ‘Building Bridges’ was born: a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to allowing middle and high school students with special needs the opportunity to bond with peer mentors and work on (largely self-directed) collaborative work in a variety of artistic disciplines, including visual arts, acting, dance, and music.”
Antonio Mendivil, Second Year
San Diego City College
Rob Benzon Memorial Scholarship recipient
From Mendivil’s essay: “At the age of 36, I was dealt a harsh but pivotal life lesson when I was sentenced to serve a full year at George Bailey Detention Facility. Accepting the firm hand of the law was a hard pill to swallow, but I did so with the best of attitudes as I took advantage of a program offered in the unit where I was housed,” he writes. “I enrolled in the GED class. Drug-free and with a clear-mind, I was able to focus on acquiring my diploma. In doing so I experienced a great sense of accomplishment, a feeling no drug could produce. Upon my release I successfully completed a residential treatment program at Stepping Stone of San Diego, which caters to the LGBTQ community and specializes in the recovery of addicts living with HIV. I embraced recovery and gained self-esteem. No longer am I embarrassed by the less-than-stellar decisions I have made in the past but instead have become empowered by them. I have selected a career in Behavioral Science, specializing in Alcohol and Other Drugs Studies, because I feel that I have life experiences that may help understand others who continue to struggle with the disease of addiction. I have taken courses in Health, Kinesiology, and Physical Education for Elementary School Children to be able to gain knowledge of today’s pre-teens. I am seeking a career in social activism and look forward to working with at-risk youth.”
McKenna Roudebush, Grade 12
Rancho Buena Vista High School
PFLAG General Scholarship recipient
From Roudebush’s essay: “High school has been an incredibly influential time of self-discovery for me. As I was beginning to become more involved in feminism, I was also coming to terms with my own sexuality, and as a result I became increasingly aware of how exclusion continues to exist in social activism. I then decided that I wanted to do something on campus for other girls who were interested in feminism but felt that their voices may not be heard. Leading this organization, I have held openmindedness in the highest regard; it is my belief that to be a good leader, one must always approach situations holistically. What has inspired me the most about this club and the students involved in it is the diversity of experiences and the respect shown for those experiences. We have a wide variety of members, coming from a plethora of backgrounds, and the uniting factor is a desire to learn. Hearing the perspectives of other students has allowed me to become a more holistic individual, and this is the most important lesson I have learned from running the Feminist Student Alliance.”
Organizers say The Launching Leaders event not only gives these exceptional scholars a chance to share their stories and goals, but also raises money to sustain the PFLAG Scholarship Fund at SDHDF. The goal is to be able to increase support to match the ever-rising cost of school, books and living expenses and reduce barriers to education for San Diego County LGBTQ scholars.
Since 1998, PFLAG San Diego County has overseen the awarding of over 80 scholarships in the amount of more than $130,000 to LGBT scholars. The portfolio of scholarship awards overseen by the PFLAG Scholarship Committee continues to increase, including scholarships funded through former and current PFLAG members, the Rob Benzon Foundation, San Diego Human Dignity Foundation, and the Stephen G. Bowersox Memorial Scholarship, among others. The scholarships are awarded to LGBT high school seniors continuing on to higher education, or full-time undergraduate and graduate students, through a competitive application and essay process. The scholarship committee selects recipients based on commitment to their chosen field, financial need and academic achievement. Launching Leaders produced in partnership with San Diego Human Dignity Foundation, serves as both a platform to honor recipients and a primary fundraiser for future scholarships.
La Pietra Foundation is the presenting sponsor of this year’s luncheon. Leadership Sponsor is ScholarShare/TIAA-CREF. Awardee Sponsors are Imperial Court de San Diego, Randi Dropkin, Phyllis Charlton and friends. Table Sponsors include: Drew Jack and Peggy Walkush, San Diego LGBT Pride, Mary Cruz and Joselyn Harris, San Diego LGBT Center, Mary Stockton and Dr. Alison McManus, North County LGBTQ Center, Dr. Daniel Lee, International Student Exchange, The San Diego Foundation, American Eagle Bookkeeping and Maureen Steiner (Lambda Archives). Scholarship Sponsors include: PFLAG San Diego; Rob Benzon Foundation; San Diego Human Dignity Foundation; Donna and James Bowersox and friends; the estate of Philip Flick; the family and friends of John McCusker; and Sharon Murphy and friends. In-kind supporters include: Gay San Diego/SDCNN; LGBT Weekly; Mance Creative, Scatena Daniels, and The Welty Group.
Event Calendar Details
Second Annual Launching Leaders PFLAG Scholarship Awards Luncheon
Friday, May 13, 2016
11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
McMillin Event Center at Liberty Station
2875 Dewey Road, San Diego, Calif. 92106
Tickets $60 each (includes self-parking)
About PFLAG San Diego County
By meeting people where they are and collaborating with others, PFLAG San Diego County realizes its vision through: Support for families, allies and people who are LGBTQ; Education for ourselves and others about the unique issues and challenges facing people who are LGBTQ; Advocacy in our communities to change attitudes and create policies and laws that achieve full equality for people who are LGBTQ. PFLAG San Diego envisions a world where diversity is celebrated and all people are respected, valued, and affirmed inclusive of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. At PFLAG San Diego County meetings and events, participants find a confidential and supportive setting to share concerns with others and find comfort and reassurance regarding our LGBTQ children, family members, friends, and selves. For more information, go to www.pflag.com.
About the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation
The San Diego Human Dignity Foundation (SDHDF), which will celebrate their 20th anniversary in 2016, is the sole community foundation in the San Diego region dedicated to the benefit of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. SDHDF funds programs and projects that promote equal treatment, tolerance, wellness, well-being, and above all else, human dignity. We work to strengthen LGBT organizations and leadership. The organization nurtures philanthropic giving to support LGBT people and address important issues such as aging, arts and culture, health and wellness, youth and families, and civil rights. For more information, visit www.sdhdf.org. Connect on Facebook and Twitter.