All three winners of the 2012 Catherine T. Murray Memorial Scholarship, which is geared toward students with disabilities, embrace their disabilities and hope to better the lives of other people, including others who deal with similar issues.
After a board of professionals reviewed more than 25 applications and essays, the staff at Ocean State Center of Independent Living (OSCIL) was thrilled to announce the winners. They held a celebration at their office at 1944 Warwick Avenue in honor of the winners last week.
The scholarships, each in the amount of $1,000, were awarded to three Rhode Island students who are looking to further their education.
The winners are Lenore Montanaro, 22, of North Kingstown, Benjamin Snow, 19, of Scituate, and Alicia Laramee of Gloucester.
Montanaro, who just graduated from Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., with a bachelor’s degree in English, Creative Writing and Pre-law, is an above-the-knee amputee. Despite challenges she faces, she just attended orientation at Western New England School of Law in Springfield, Mass., as her goal is to become a lawyer for disabled Americans under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“I’m open to wherever the need is, but one of my passions is thinking about the Americans with Disabilities Act and hopefully trying to effect some kind of policy change to advocate for the disabled,” she said in a brief phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “I really love the Constitution and I love thinking about justice and the rights of the disabled.”
In her spare time, Montanaro enjoys writing poetry, playing the guitar and being with her two dogs. She doesn’t allow her disability to hold her back.
“I’m disabled but I’ve used my disability to become more able,” she said. “I am really grateful.”
Snow, who deals with dyslexia, said he is also grateful and excited to pursue his higher education at St. Joseph’s College in Maine. He hopes to be a kindergarten teacher in the future.
“I’ve always loved kids,” said Snow, an Eagle Scout. “I was taking a child development class at school and we went to a pre-school, the Early Learning Center. I ended up volunteering and I fell in love with it.”
Lorna Ricci, executive director of OSCIL and a member of the scholarship committee, said it’s important that Snow will be able to reference his own disability so he can help kids through it.
According to HeadStrongNation.org, 15 percent of the U.S. population, or one out of seven Americans, has a learning disability. Of that number, 80 percent are dyslexic.
“It’s a remarkable story because it’s very prevalent,” Ricci said. “A lot of people struggle with different forms of dyslexia.”
The third winner, Alicia Laramee, 18, suffers from fibromyalgia and arthritis. She will begin taking classes at Johnson & Wales University in the fall to major in hotel and lodging management.
Also, she hopes to start an internship at a Marriott hotel in the near future. For now, she’s basking in the joy of her win.
“Getting the scholarship made me feel great because now I can go to school and give back to the people who have helped me,” she said.
Laramee, who works at Wendy’s in Smithfield and volunteers for various organizations, has been dealing with fibromyalgia and arthritis since she was 14 and had to quit high school sports due to the condition. Still, she feels her disability has made her a better person and hopes to ease any distress of others through the hotel and lodging industry.
“I want people who are far away from home to feel comfort,” she said.
Ricci said OSCIL waited until the students’ class schedules were confirmed to issue the awards. Committee members who had a hand in selecting the winners included Ricci, Pat McCrone, Anne McDonald, Dr. Raymond Mis, Caldi Shire, Jack Welch and John Howell.
The fund is in honor of Murray, a former English teacher at Aldrich Junior High School, who volunteered at OSCIL. She set up an endowment through the Rhode Island Foundation and OSCIL is happy to continue it in her name.
“Catherine truly appreciated how important every little bit of money can help further someone’s education,” said Ricci. “She passed on six years ago but the scholarship will go on forever. She was an amazing person.”
McCrone agreed. She noted how helpful Murray always was.
“For many years, my husband had to give lectures and presentations and he had to write it first,” she said. “He would write it and take it over to Catherine and have her critique it – and he was an English major.”
Ricci and McCrone said the three winners are also quite remarkable. They are proud of each of them.
“Their disabilities aren’t stopping them,” Ricci said. “They are moving on to a career path to help others in spite of their disabilities.”