Spirit of Columbia Scholarship winners share their stories

Spirit of Columbia Scholarship winners

One of last year’s Spirit of Columbia Scholarship winners, Oakland Mills graduate Cire Nicholson, volunteered with Allied Soccer, a varsity sport for teens with disabilities. Photo courtesy Allied Soccer.

By David Greisman, February 2018

Aaron Park has been volunteering since before he knew what volunteering was. As a child, the young plant enthusiast would join his father at a nearby garden plot in Long Reach, helping others weed and maintain their gardens.

And like the plants themselves, Park’s dedication to community service blossomed and bloomed.

For more than a decade, Park has shared his ideas about natural pesticides, irrigation techniques, conservationism and genetic preservation with his fellow gardeners. He completed a successful heirloom tomato fundraiser that gave many gardeners rare, organic and healthy plants to grow. And outside of horticulture, Park found an avenue for his passion for music by performing regularly at his church.

All of that helped make Park one of six Howard County students rewarded earlier this year with Columbia Association’s Maggie J. Brown Spirit of Columbia Scholarship Award, a $2,500 scholarship awarded to graduating high school seniors who have shown extraordinary dedication to performing community service.

That prize is not why he volunteered over the years, but it is nonetheless appreciated.

“Every dollar helps,” said Park, who graduated from Long Reach High School and is now a freshman majoring in biochemistry at the University of North Carolina. “It’s helping me pay for room and board and for textbooks.”

Applications are now being accepted for the 2018 Spirit of Columbia scholarships.

The students must live on CA-assessed property or have a parent/guardian who works full-time on or owns CA-assessed property. Applicants must be graduating in May/June 2018 from an accredited public, private or parochial high school, or be home-schooled in accordance with COMAR 13A.10.01. The students must have a cumulative grade point average of 2.0 or better.

Applications are available online at ColumbiaAssociation.org/scholarship. Completed applications must be submitted by March 15. For more information, call 410-715-3161 or email SpiritofColumbia@ColumbiaAssociation.org.

(CA employees, members of CA’s Board of Directors or family members of employees or members of the Board of Directors are not eligible to receive the award.)

“Being chosen was a huge honor and made me feel even more proud of my accomplishments,” said Jennifer Zhang, a scholarship recipient who graduated from River Hill High earlier this year and is now attending the University of Pennsylvania. “Having this scholarship and learning in a competitive environment allows me to focus more on my studies, and to be more motivated to work harder to make my education worth it.”

Zhang served on the River Hill Teen Advisory Committee, including two years as the committee’s chair and the student member of the River Hill Village Board of Directors. Among her responsibilities was promoting the volunteer and community spirit of River Hill, encouraging teen involvement. She also has been a member of Angel’s Network, the oldest community service club at River Hill High School. In 2016, she was the youth recipient of the Governor’s Service Award, recognized for outstanding community service and contributions to the state of Maryland.

The other winners were Jacob Lampf of Atholton High, Kaitlin Landfried of Hammond High, Cire Nicholson of Oakland Mills High, and Olatokunbo Olaniyan of Glenelg Country School. Their efforts included creating a nonprofit to increase awareness of sickle cell disease, helping teens with disabilities participate in soccer, making the community a better place for LGBT individuals, and participating in the #OneHoward initiative to reinforce the county’s shared goals of diversity and inclusiveness.

“The amazing thing about volunteering is that all types of volunteering make a difference,” Zhang said. “Whether it’s donating a couple hours of your time to deliver warm meals in the winter, or spending months planning a charity event in which all proceeds go to a nonprofit, all of this makes tangible differences in people’s lives.”