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Poinciana Council Awards Scholarships to District & Valencia Students

For over a decade the Poinciana Council of The Osceola Chamber has offered an annual scholarship to graduating high school seniors who live in the Poinciana area, which they have defined as anywhere within zip codes 34758, 34759, or 34746.  This year, the Poinciana Council Board of Directors once again offered this scholarship opportunity to worthy graduating seniors living in those zip codes, as well as to students already enrolled in post-secondary institutions so they might continue with their degree or certification program.

Each year the Poinciana Council Board of Directors solicits applications from eligible candidates.  This year, the Board established a Poinciana Council Scholarship Fund, and donations of any denomination are accepted year-round.  Significant contributions this year were made by C3 Wellness Spa and HCA Florida Poinciana Hospital. Thanks to an Osceola County Community Betterment Grant from District 3 Commissioner Brandon Arrington, the Council was able to match their collected funds in order to award four $1000 scholarships, plus add an additional $500 for each student resulting in scholarship awards totalling $1500 each.

After an application review process, the Poinciana Council Board chose three remarkable high school seniors from three different Osceola County School District schools and one student enrolled at Valencia College.  The decision was based on extracurricular and volunteer activity, recommendation from the students’ teachers and advisors, and, most importantly, the students’ essay response to the prompt “As a young adult/professional in the Poinciana Community, please address the biggest challenges facing the community and ways that you can address those challenges considering your educational goals, life experiences, and any obstacles or hardships that you have overcome.”

On Monday, April 29 the Poinciana Council Board of Directors celebrated these amazing students at the annual Poinciana Council Scholarship Awards Luncheon held in the Media Center at Poinciana High School.  Lunch was catered, as it has been every year, by the Poinciana High School culinary students under the instruction of Chef Juan Alamo.  On the menu this year was an appetizer of beef or vegetable arancini, wood-fired pizza margherita or bianca chicken, and a limoncello creme brulee for dessert.

The winners this year were a very accomplished and diverse group representing four schools.  Najlaa Erlhouizi, a Liberty High School student who just passed her phlebotomy certification and is her senior class Vice President, is enrolled at Valencia College for the fall semester. Keenan Lewis from Poinciana High School is pursuing a degree in accounting form the University of South Florida in the fall with the ultimate goal of leading a non-profit that provides financial education to lower income families. Arturo Williams, who attends the Osceola County School for the Arts, is headed to New York with his jazz band this month before pursuing an engineering degree in college in the fall.  Karen Zerpa, a Valencia student, could not be present at the event, but her 15-year-old sister Valeria did an excellent job representing her and reading her essay on challenges the Poinciana Community faces.

Said 2024 Poinciana Council Chair Lennore Turcotte, “It is an honor and privilege to award scholarships to these four amazing students on behalf of the Poinciana Council.  These local Poinciana students are shining examples of the caliber of students in the Poinciana Community. Each winner, along with outstanding academic achievement, had spent many hours volunteering at local charities, engaging in enriching cultural activities such as band, or leading their school’s student government.  The student’s penned heartfelt essays on the challenges facing the Poinciana Community including traffic patterns, lack of affordable housing, continued poverty and the lack of high paying, stable jobs in the community. Our hope is that these students will return to the Poinciana community after they complete their education to offer solutions to  the problems that they have identified and to continue to make Poinciana a rewarding place to live, work and play.”

Our keynote speakers for this year’s luncheon were Commissioner Arrington and Valencia College Poinciana Campus Executive Dean Sandie Martinez. Commissioner Arrington gave the students a reality check by letting them know that “This isn’t the end of the line.  You’re going to need more education.  Know that you’re not smart enough to know everything; you’re going to continue to learn.  Use the people around you, because education won’t always be in the classroom.”  Particularly resonant in a room full of business people, he added, “You will spend more time with the people you work with than your own families, so like what you do…Dollar amount is not where success is found.”  Ms. Martinez reminded them that they are “sons and daughters of our community.  Be proud of who you are and where you come from.”

The annual scholarship awards could not be possible with sponsorships and community support. This year’s event was sponsored by Osceola Community Health Services and Valencia College. Poinciana High School continues to support and celebrate this event year after year, and the Poinciana Council’s impact is heightened by the generous Community Betterment Grant program and Commissioner Arrington.

If you would like to support this event or assist the Poinciana Council Board with their other education- and future-focused programs in the Poinciana area, reach out to us at cpilkington@theosceolachamber.com. See more images from the event in the gallery below.


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