Written by: Christina Brennan, FCSN Voices Reporter
Graphics by: Aliya Ahmad, FCSN Voices Graphic Artist
Since the inception of FCSN in 1996, the organization has strived to improve and foster community amongst children who have special needs. FCSN encourages acceptance, improvement, and aims to create a feeling of closeness amongst those who take their time to dedicate their skills. In light of this, a scholarship was awarded for the second year in a row, the first of this kind having been given in 2021. The competition was expanded this year, and individuals who were involved in FCSN that showed a commitment to helping, promoting, and expanding opportunities for people with special needs as well as had financial needs themselves were those who were favored in the application process.
The scholarship included a maximum of five students with up to $5,000 per person, which would be put towards their undergraduate or graduate education. According to Jason Hwan, a member of the scholarship committee, the applicants this year exemplified what FCSN strives to promote: “Most of scholarship applicants came with impressive volunteering data and endorsement from various internal/external reference. It is very difficult for [the] committee to make the decision, but I strongly believe these four award recipients represent FCSN volunteer tradition, spirit, dedication, and leadership.”
This year, the scholarship was awarded to more individuals, and it had a greater focus on service within the FCSN community as opposed to GPA, making it more accessible for those that were involved and demonstrated an interest in serving others and integrating themselves into the FCSN family. The students who applied had to be a senior in high school or some equivalent, an undergraduate or graduate student, and be entering an accredited university in the fall of 2022. They must be citizens or residents of the United States, and have a GPA of at least 3.0. This scholarship, although more focused on furthering involvement in the lives of those with special needs than simply academics, the Shannon Liu Shair, Peter Chan, Linmei Chiao, Mannching Wang, and Jason Hwan made their decision based on a holistic outlook. This ties into the final part of the application, which is the 750 word autobiographical essay.
The four winners were each awarded $3,750 and had performed at least 30 hours of service over the span of almost a year. The winners are Kerensa Hardesty, Joyce Lui, Erica Chiu, and Kyle Ng.
Kerensa Hardesty is a student at Santa Clara University where she studies biology and neuroscience. She is an honors student, and alongside her academics, the rising junior spends her time working with hospice patients under VITAS Healthcare, is EMT certified, works in biomedical research at her university, and is interested in working with the Trevor Project to help with her medical fluency. In addition to this, she also has volunteered with FCSN since 2011 after her twin brother began taking FCSN art classes. Here, she holds leadership positions as the President of the FCSN Toastmasters and a board member on the FCSN Young Leaders Committee. Kerensa aspires to become a developmental-behavioral pediatrician in the future. She says that this scholarship has not only validated the time and effort that has been put into FCSN, but it also will financially help her pay for her tuition.
Joyce Lui is a rising senior at Monta Vista High School, and she hopes to study psychology in the future in order to better understand the connection between science and certain behaviors. Joyce is a very active student, and in addition to her involvement at FCSN, she’s president of Ohana Club, a club bridging general and special-ed students, an assistant instructor for the Blue Devils Special Needs Guard, and has attended the Stanford Neurodiversity Project Reach Camp to further educate herself with the special needs community. At FCSN, Joyce also has had a large amount of involvement as a tutor coordinator, a karaoke tutor, active volunteer, and a teacher for an embroidery class for two semesters. The soon-to-be-senior felt compelled to make a difference in her community because growing up with a sister on the spectrum, she witnessed, first hand, the stigmas that can surround those with special needs. Receiving this scholarship has been an essential stepping stone in her journey, and she is incredibly appreciative of it.
Erica Chiu is a rising senior who attends UC Davis where she double majors in Human Biology and Psychology. She is on the premedical track and is currently studying for the Medical School Admissions Test (MCAT). Erica is an accomplished individual within FCSN, and she founded the first and only university branch of FCSN at her college. She has been the club president for the past two years, and not only has the club taken the initiative to create their own projects for special needs kids in the Sacramento and Davis area, but she hopes to further expand the club in the upcoming year. One of the reasons she is so passionate about the work that she does with FCSN is because she hopes that through her efforts she can educate and spread awareness about neurodivergence and break down the stigma around it. Winning this scholarship is important and helpful to her, as the journey toward medicine is costly, and this award will help with some of that.
Kyle Ng is an incoming college freshman who has volunteered within FCSN and is an active member of the community by presenting opportunities for STEM to children with special needs. He introduced the Train the Trainers Program, in which he taught STEM subjects and robotics. Kyle has shown proactivity in his community, and he has been committed towards transforming those around him through his hard work. As Kyle goes into his first year of college, this scholarship provides him with another important item that can contribute towards his continued education and success.
FCSN has managed to bring together a group of people who believe in the bettering of lives through hard work and positivity between people with special needs and their volunteer peers. This scholarship was a way to highlight the hard work that all of those involved in FCSN do and bring attention to an important thing that we can all contribute to, encouraging a sense of belonging.