August 4th, 2020
by Diana Natti Theriault
While scrolling through her news feed on Mother’s Day, Mareshah White, who was a Hamden High School senior at the time, saw that her fellow classmates were struggling with the loss of a “normal” senior year. With no prom to look forward to, uncertainty about graduation, and the lack of social contact with one another, post after post was friends feeling sad, disappointed, and nervous for the future.
Mareshah, who has always tried to be active in the community, and give back when she sees a need, decided to find a way to support the class of 2020, and the idea for the Scholarship Fund for Courage, Opportunity, Vitality, Innovation, and Drive was born.
Her first call was to Nadine Gannon, the principal of Hamden High, who was thrilled with the idea of the scholarship, and gave Mareshah some ideas of who to contact to get the ball rolling. After a sending nearly 100 emails out to various sources asking for support, Daniel Cocchiola, the Hamden High Coordinator of Counseling and Career Pathways, stepped in to help guide Mareshah to success.
“Mareshah’s actions in conceptualizing this scholarship, and then working with a broad range of partners to see it through, has been a selfless act to support those who have been impacted financially, academically and emotionally by COVID-19 broadly and the school closure specifically. She exemplifies the Dragon Pride of our school family. This scholarship will help defray the cost of college expenses for more than a hundred of her peers, lessening the burden in this most tumultuous time,” said Mr. Cocchiola.
He told Mareshah about the generous community based grant programs at AT&T and encouraged her start there.
“AT&T aims to identify programs that are making real differences in the lives of local students, and this scholarship program is a unique and innovative example,” said John Emra, president, AT&T Connecticut. “Ms. White’s creativity and determination is inspirational...The effort to prepare and support students in pursuit of their college goals is critical, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are very proud to offer our support.”
With the promise of the initial donation of $15,000 from AT&T, Mareshah needed to find someone to oversee the scholarship, knowing the importance of having an outside organization help to manage the fund. Marehsah contacted the Hamden Education Foundation, hoping they would be able to help. She was devastated when after weeks they discovered it would not be possible due to a policy conflict.
Showing an amazing amount of perseverance, she continued her search. She contacted an organization that had recently given her a scholarship, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, to connect about their process. They suggested she reach out to The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, who immediately got on board and helped to put the final pieces together for Mareshah and the scholarship.
“In times such as these when families are experiencing unprecedented losses, it is inspiring to see leadership and compassion coming from our local youth, and to see the corporate sector rising to support the efforts of this next generation of philanthropists,” said Community Foundation Vice President of Grantmaking & Scholarships Sarah Fabish.
Throughout this process, Mareshah was still participating in remote learning for her own classes, while also helping her younger sibling with their on-line education. She could see all around her the struggles that were going on with her classmates and their families.
It was their struggle that was her fuel to get the scholarship fund completed. She also had a relative who was impacted by the virus, and at times, the stress of things made her feel that she was hanging on by a thread. It was a lot to handle, but she knew that she was not alone in this struggle.
Heartbroken at the stories of hardship, she wanted to be sure that the scholarship would be able to help with the specific hardships associated with the pandemic. The scholarship funds are to be payable by check so that students will be able use the funds for anything that they need before heading off to college. For some that may be tuition, books and school supplies, and for others it may be medical needs or food.
The initial grant is enough for her to give 150 students a check, but her ultimate goal is to be able to support all 396 HHS 2020 Graduates. She has now been working on the application process, with about 70 students applying only two days after she released the application.
Mareshah graduated this spring, and plans to attend the University of New Haven to study Health Science. She intends to continue being active in our community, which is one of the reasons she chose to stay close and attend UNH. Her record for activism and community engagement is impressive.
She was Secretary in the National Honor Society, a Student Ambassador, Team Manager for the HHS Girls Gymnastics Team, Student Advisory Board, Founder of the Homework, Excellence, Leadership Program at Hamden High, Vice President of the HHS Black and Hispanic Student Union, and more. She has received numerous awards, including the HPS Superintendent’s Student of the Month in October of 2019, and South Central Area Superintendents Award in 2020.
(Pictured above, Mareshah speaking on the steps of Hamden Town Hall at Hamden Action Now's Peaceful Protest on Sunday June 7th 2020)
Nadine Gannon had only wonderful things to say about Mareshah when we spoke. “She is a phenomenal young woman with a vision that is all about taking care of people. It isn’t just with this scholarship, it is who she is. I am thrilled she was able to accomplish this, and that she is not done. She is still working to help each member of the class. With every breath she takes she is working to make things better.” It was clear from speaking with Mrs. Gannon, that Mareshah has held an important place in her heart. “It has been a privilege to be her principal, and to work with her on all of the things she helped to create to make Hamden High a better place.”
Hamden High School played an important role in Mareshah's community activism. She transferred to Hamden High in the middle of her freshman year, and the transition was, of course, a difficult one. But as she became acclimated, she found that there was so much encouragement in the halls of the school. Whether it was students, faculty, administration, she found them to be warm and welcoming, and she feels they truly motivated her to become the young woman she is now.
The class of 2020, and Hamden as a whole, is lucky to have such an amazing person helping our community. If you would like to help Mareshah reach her goal of supporting the graduating class of 2020, who have been impacted so deeply by COVID-19, please consider donating.
The Community Foundation has set up a webpage that individuals and companies can visit to make a donation, which can be found here www.cfgnh.org/hamdencovidscholarshipfund.
The Community Foundation has also said that if people continue to donate over the years, the scholarship could continue for other classes as well.
Thank you Mareshah, for all that you do to make Hamden a wonderful community!