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Nicolina Cabezal

Marketing Strategist for Action Environmental Group.

2018 Action Environmental Group Scholarship Winner

2018 Action Environmental Group Scholarship Winner

Today we had the pleasure of presenting our 2nd annual Action Environmental Group scholarship award. The winner was High School Senior Gianna Falletta. Our CEO Ron Bergamini and her father NJ Sales Manager, Sal Falletta were on hand to present Gianna with her award. Her captivating essay and incredible 4.71 GPA makes Gianna the ideal recipient of this award.

2018 Scholarship Winner

In the fall she will begin the journey of receiving her Bachelors Degree in Occupational Therapy at Quinnipiac University. She also plans on receiving her Masters in the field.

Read her award-winning essay below.

Question: Describe your most meaningful achievements and how they relate to your field of study
and your future goals?

The person I am today and career path I have chosen were shaped by two important factors: my work with special needs children at a young age, and my current involvement at the Special Strides Therapeutic Riding Center. During elementary and middle school, teachers recommended students who would work well with special needs children and help out within their classes. As a young child, I was chosen to work with the special needs children and enjoyed playing on the playground and reading books with them. Sometimes, the children would get upset and it was hard to communicate with them, but other times they were bright and full of laughter. These experiences taught me to be a more accepting, kind, and patient person, but they also showed me that I wanted to continue my work with special needs children for the rest of my life.

As I moved on to high school, I was no longer able to work with special needs children inside the classroom; I looked for opportunities elsewhere and discovered Special Strides. Special Strides Therapeutic Riding Center treats children with an array of disabilities, from autism to cerebral palsy, through hippotherapy with the help of occupational and physical therapists. My experiences at Special Strides have introduced me to amazing individuals and families who have shown me that I can truly make a difference and inspired me to pursue occupational therapy. As I have developed bonds with the students I have had a chance to watch them grow in ways I never imagined possible. I have seen a child speak and sign their first words, after months of saying “go” and signing “more” to prompt the horse to continue walking. I have seen a child take their first steps after years of riding and work with the therapists. I have seen the small victories, like untying a knot, solving a puzzle, or stacking cones, that seem miniscule, but actually mean so much.

Each of these milestones, however, were uphill battles. Sometimes it is a challenge to even get the child on the horse, an entire lesson can be spent coaxing them to the horse or calming them down from crying. Sometimes a child misses a few lessons and when they return, it seems like all the progress made was lost. Sometimes, the unexpected happens, and the child has a seizure during a lesson and I can feel myself paralyzed with fear and heartbreak. However, all of these obstacles are worth it when a goal is reached, or a parent thanks me for treating their child “normally” and playing with them on the playground after their very first lesson. Every one of these moments has taught me to be more accepting, more kind, and more patient, and everyone I have encountered has inspired me to become an occupational therapist so I can continue to change lives for the better.

Runner-Up Jeffrey Mercado

We cannot forget to mention our second place scholarship winner Jeffery Mercado. While we typically only present one student with an award, Jeffery's essay was so compelling the judges felt he was deserving of finical assistance to pursue his college goals.

Scholarship Winner Jeffery

Jeffery, who is the son of CDL Driver Javier Mercado from our Paterson Depot, plans to attend Rutgers University this summer to study International Business and Human Resource Managment.

Read his heartfelt essay below:

Question: Describe how you have demonstrated leadership ability in and out of school.

For most of my life, I wasn't sure of my identity. I guess that's why I never really liked looking at mirrors. The reflection of seeing how everyone else perceived me never matched how I identified myself. I am homosexual Hispanic male whose number one interest is dance. My insecurities were built on the fundamentals of my lack of self-confidence.  At my dance studio, I knew exactly who I was. I thought to myself this is how I should feel all the time.

I noticed at my high school that we practically had a club for everything except dance. So one day my sophomore year I made the courageous decision to start one. I wanted to bring my passion for dance as a way to overcome my obstacle in school.  I was looking for dancers who were truly happy while dancing and felt as though this was their escape as well I saw a change in how my clubmates and I walked down those hallways my junior year. We learned that no longer was we going to be bullied into silence. We were not going to accept anyone's definition of our lives, but define ourselves.

Later that year my club mates came up to me and they used a noun to describe my persona, they had called me a “semicolon”. According to them, I was a symbol to remind people that there's more to see, that I was influencing not only my life but my surrounding as well. I made my identity my strength. Now when I look into a mirror I can’t help but smile to see who’ve I become.

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