Students From Hawaii and Virginia Earn Two VRG $5,000 Scholarships
Youth from the Atlantic to the Pacific have certainly been promoting vegetarianism, as evidenced by this year's Vegetarian Resource Group scholarship winners.
About This Year's Winners
Melissa Monette of Hawaii said, her grandfather died not too long ago and her grandmother was left to survive on a single income. When she turned to a nonprofit organization that distributes canned good items to the public, she was turned away. She was told that they distribute only to the homeless. As a result, Melissa decided to start her own nonprofit called A Harvest for Many, Inc.
Melissa's program provides food assistance, education, and aerobic dance exercise classes to senior citizens, the homeless, at-risk teens living on the streets, and abused women and children living in shelters.
Melissa said, "First, I developed an inexpensive way to feed the impoverished by asking homeowners to donate surplus fruits/vegetables grown in their yards. I drove through hundreds of neighborhoods to map out communities and identified homeowners with fruit trees and gardens. I then mailed out letters to solicit their help. To supplement the needs of my program, I worked with community service clubs in schools (Leo, Interact, and Key) to support food drives (fresh and/or canned vegetables and fruits) and with farms, churches, and organizations like Safeway to donate surplus produce or gift cards.
"A second way I promoted vegetarianism was combining dance exercise classes (modern and Tahitian dance) with potlucks that involved food made only with vegetables and fruits. Students from various schools assisted me and became involved in committees that provided dance classes and meals made with fruits and vegetables.
"Because of the ethnic diversity of our state, a third measure was to ask nutritionists to emphasize Hawaiian and Asian Pacific foods (taro, papaya, cabbage, tofu, eggplant, etc.) and identify foods rich in calcium to prevent the effects of osteoporosis (especially for senior citizens). Fourth, I promoted my program through newspapers, radio broadcasts, and legislative newsletters and designed my website http://aharvestformany.webs. com that provided information on total calorie intake necessary and the amounts of fruits and vegetables an individual needs to consume per day. Lastly, I potted tomato seedlings and asked senior citizens in lowincome facilities to create community gardens to grow their own vegetables.
"I was able to raise over 28,000 pounds of food to feed more than 133,000 individuals from all walks of life: low-income senior citizens from Waipahu Hall Elderly and Hale Mohalu; the homeless and those living in shelters supported by the food bank, the Institute for Human Services, and the River of Life Mission; at-risk teens living on the streets supported by Hale Kipa; and abused children from domestic disputes supported by Family and Children Services, Kahi Mohalu (for children and teens facing suicide, family crisis, and other emotional problems).
"In school, my program helped students to become more socially responsible and actively involved in their communities. Some students became more active by participating in community service clubs to sponsor food drives. Other students became more involved by helping to harvest and collect food, fundraise, publicize the goals of the charity, package and distribute food, or provide aerobic exercise programs. Yet other students learned about good citizenship and how to become involved in their government by signing petitions/giving testimony to their legislature to support various bills. (I worked with legislators to support funding for Senior Farmer Market vouchers for low-income senior citizens.) Lastly, my program helped to develop student leaders by offering opportunities for them to chair committees and represent my organization. From these experiences, students learned to never underestimate the power that one individual can make in their community."
One of Melissa's references said, "Ever since she started her program A Harvest for Many, Inc., she has really made a difference in my tenants' lives. If it wasn't for her program, many of my tenants wouldn't get their monthly fresh fruits and vegetables. Here at Hale Mohalu, we are a low-income senior housing apartment complex, so with her help, it really makes a difference for the tenants. With the way the economy is, it is very expensive for my tenants to be able to afford their monthly necessities. Since Melissa's program is a free service to our tenants, it allows them to be able to have money for other things ...."
Another reference told us, "Our senior living facility, which services over 100 residents from 71 units, has benefited tremendously from Melissa's program. For the last two years, her program has brought hundreds of pounds of food to our residents, who barely are able to survive on their fixed income, .... Melissa has learned the art of networking with community service clubs from other schools. I have worked with members of her exercise committees from Pearl City High, accepted food donations from Mililani High, and heard of students from other schools like Radford High distributing food to immobilized seniors .... Many of our seniors are forgotten by their own children. And many of our seniors would rather eat food out of a can than take time to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Melissa's program supports our seniors by bringing fresh produce, exercise programs, and nutritional information to them. I urge your consideration of this unique teenager who provides time and effort in our community that exceeds what most adults can claim to contribute in a lifetime."
A final reference summed up our scholarship winner by saying, "Melissa is the real deal .... She is of a heart that overflows with kindness .... She is of a sound, healthy body, serving as Varsity Tennis Team Captain, and earning the doubles state championship .... Melissa leads by example. Her work in support of the world's children and of Hawaii is truly exemplary. Melissa is living Gandhi's proclamation to be the change you want to see in the world."
On the Atlantic coast, Giannina Gonzalez from Virginia has worked to change school lunches at the local and national level. Nina wrote, "School cafeteria menus often run relatively slim when it comes to finding meatless options. Amongst the monotonous rotation of corn dogs, chicken patties, and Philly cheesesteak subs lies a fantastic opportunity for satisfying, healthful choices. I visited a school in Fairfax County and saw a vending machine selling Silk soymilk along with regular milk. I would never have imagined such a thing at my school, and the discovery prompted me to question why options like this were not offered everywhere. "After doing some research, I learned how the National School Lunch program worked. I learned about the necessary dietary requirements that must be on each tray of food that leaves the lunch line. I also learned about schools in Georgia, Virginia, and California that offer vegetarian options. When talking with fellow students, I discovered that vegetarian options give cafeterias a sense of sophistication. Athletes told me they wished they could have healthier and lighter options on the day of a match or race. Many felt that heavy, animal-laden entrées weighed them down. They wanted to be able to choose options that suited them. Students also told me about high schools they had heard of whose cafeterias resembled restaurant-type atmospheres with plenty of options available, including vegetarian ones.
"Armed with the facts, I arranged a meeting with a certified dietitian and gained some insight on the daily nutritional requirements for my age group. I asked around my school lunchroom to find out who I needed to talk with about my proposal. I ultimately met with the school district nutrition director and presented him the idea of offering meatless meals. I printed out examples from successful programs, such as the one I had seen in Fairfax County, and mentioned that there was a large group of students interested in such options.
"The next month, I got together a group of 18 students-vegetarians and non-vegetarians-to conduct a taste test. The group explained how vegetarian lunches were desirable to all students because they provided a sense of freedom within the lunch line. Such offerings were also beneficial for schools with a diverse student body, especially ones including students searching for kosher and meat-free options. The addition of such options adds a sense of sophistication among schools and is something that can be noted on a school's profile.
"As a result of my study, changes were in fact implemented in my high school's cafeteria. A vegetarian lunch that students could request any day of the week is now offered, with options including a daily salad line, a potato bar, taco salads, meatless bean burritos, and pita bread with hummus. The changes stirred a positive response from students who desired more options. Teachers benefited as well from the new selections allowing them to pursue healthier options. I even received countless e-mails and phone calls from parents thanking me for my efforts since the options were made available to all school levels, including elementary."
One teacher stated, "I have personally witnessed the enthusiasm for the vegetarian options here in our building; also, our cafeteria director told me that the teens and children all over the county are purchasing these options ... enough, so that we are now in the second full year. We all know that if something isn't financially effective, the system will pull it." All students in Head Start, elementary school, middle school, and high school in Nina's school district now have a vegetarian option available upon request.
Nina has also testified twice in front of the Senate Committee on Nutrition in Washington. She testified in the role of teen advocate for vegetarian and vegan school lunch choices nationwide.
In March 2010, she spoke at a Congressional hearing about obtaining more plant-based options in our schools. She met with her senator and her representative about the matter and spoke about her story and how such options are very important, especially for youth, for whom the best meal of their day is often the one they receive at school.
Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) said, "Let me offer the strongest possible recommendation in support of Nina Gonzalez .... Nina is an intelligent, highly motivated, and effective advocate for vegetarian diets, and is a future leader in efforts for healthy and compassionate nutrition practices .... Last year, she presented oral comments before the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee .... Her comments were among the most effective heard by the committee that day."
Nina has also leafleted through Vegan Outreach near the University of Mary Washington and handed out pamphlets at several outdoor concerts and events. In addition, see the video from her junior year research project at http://vimeo.com/6083904.
Like Melissa, Nina is also a top athlete. She participates in golf, cross country, and tennis. Nina qualified for the Virginia State Golf Championships in both the girls and boys division.
One of her references wrote, "Nina is one of the nicest and most welcoming people I've ever met .... I can't imagine that there is a high school student anywhere who deserves this scholarship more than Nina. She is a great natural leader and an inspiration to all who are around her .... In such a divisive culture we live in, she's a breath of fresh air. She's a serious activist who takes on issues important to her in a way that educates and changes minds without alienating or belittling people who disagree."
Thank you to all our scholarship entrants for their hard work and effort to bring about a better world.
To enter next year's $5,000 scholarship contest for high school seniors, visit www.vrg.org for application details. The application is due Monday, February 21, 2011. Please submit early. If you would like to fund additional scholarships, you can go to our donation page at www.vrg.org or send a contribution to The Vegetarian Resource Group, P.O. Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203.