Three students who spent days looking for food, water and electricity after the hurricane in Puerto Rico have found academic success in their new hometown of New Haven — and were rewarded Thursday night with $1,000 college scholarships.
The three received the scholarships at Amarante’s Sea Cliff, where around 200 people attended the New Haven Hispanic Firefighters Association’s 16th annual Scholarship and Recognition Banquet.
“We’ve been giving out these scholarships for 16 years. We wanted to give the scholarships to three kids who lost everything. For everything you get, you should give back to the community. The scholarships will help the kids get necessities for college like clothes, laptops, and books,” said Captain Rafael Zayas, the president of the New Haven Firefighters Association.
Soto Gomez, a senior at Wilbur Cross High School with a 4.0 GPA, will attend the University of Connecticut in the fall.
“I came here with my father and his family when I was 16 years old after the hurricane. I miss my mom because she stayed back in Puerto Rico. I also miss some other things about the island, like my friends and the food. But I’m glad to be here there are so many educational opportunities in the United States. I’ll be able to study Electrical Engineering here,” Soto said. “Luckily, my family made it through the hurricane.”
Soto now volunteers for disaster relief after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island.
Yeika L. Rivera, another senior at Wilbur Cross, plans on attending Gateway Community College and majoring in General Studies, then transferring to a four-year program to study education.
“I want to be a teacher. I like children, and I hope that I’ll be able to work with them. I have a little sister who is ten years old,” Rivera said, beaming. “I’m very excited for college, and the scholarship will help me to achieve my goals. I miss Puerto Rico a little, but I want to stay in New Haven.”
Rivera also helps with disaster relief to help those affected by Hurricane Maria.
Gabriell Matos, a senior at Sound School with a 3.982 GPA, was the third scholarship recipient. He also plans on attending Gateway Community College and transferring to a four-year college, where he plans on majoring in psychology.
“Sometimes I think that I would like to be a psychologist because I want to be the person that I needed growing up,” Gabriell said. “But sometimes I also think that I’d be good at selling things. I was good at selling cakes and food back home and my mom cooks, so maybe I could open a restaurant.”
Gabriell’s journey to the United States wasn’t easy — he had to work hard in order to get off of the island after the hurricane.
“I came here after Hurricane Maria, which was hard. It’s difficult when everyday luxuries like food, water, and electricity are suddenly stripped away from you. I knew that I had to try my hardest to get my mother off of the island, no matter what. I spent days looking for a cellphone signal before I was finally able to call someone and get my mother out of there,” Matos said.
For the foreseeable future, Matos plans on staying here and finishing his education, although his family remains in Puerto Rico. Only he and his mother were able to come to Connecticut after the hurricane. While Matos was in Puerto Rico he volunteered for cleaning up the island, distributing food, water, and supplies to those in need.
At Thursday night’s banquet, Community Service Awards were given to Arte Inc. co-founders. Daniel H. Diaz and David S. Greco.
Hill Alder David Reyes Jr. received a special recognition award.