In her junior year at Proviso Math and Science Academy, Michelle Munoz, 18, was dealt a devastating blow — her father died. And during her junior year in high school, Munoz’s mother was diagnosed with a series of benign tumors.
Despite high school years punctuated by pain and loss, Munoz found a way to graduate from PMSA with a 4.7 GPA. She’s now planning to major in Spanish at Concordia University in River Forest in the fall.
“It was difficult getting through all that,” Munoz said during a recent interview. “But I took it one day at a time. I put my studies first and made sure my health and my family’s health was taken care of.”
Munoz is among nine students (three from each of Proviso District 209’s three schools) who received $1,000 scholarships from 209 Together — a community organization based in Forest Park that is designed to improve the quality of life in Proviso Township and the educational environment at D209 schools. Seven additional students who won the scholarships in previous years were each awarded $500 renewal scholarships.
Since 2016, the organization has awarded nearly 30 scholarships, totaling roughly $30,000. The scholarship awards are given in two categories: overcoming adversity and persistence pays. In the essay she wrote to apply for the scholarship, Munoz explained that how she overcame her own adversity with a strong support system.
“Each situation was different,” Munoz said. “As a freshman, my father died about two months into the school year and I hadn’t really found my crowd, but I was able to go to the counselors right away and my math teachers contacted my other teachers right away. For that, I’m forever grateful.”
Munoz said when she discovered her mother’s tumors, which are currently still benign, she relied on teachers, counselors and friends. Getting through high school, however, was a difficult balancing act.
In addition to helping out with her mom, she has held a job at Target since her junior year. She also participated in various extracurricular activities, such as softball and Multicultural Club.
“My participation in the club made me realize that a lot of students are going through the same kinds of things,” she said, adding that her mother’s illness has only enhanced her appreciation for family.
“My mother is my hero and to see her go through any type of pain hurts me,” Munoz said. “This experience has shown me how much she needs me and how much I need her.”
Moneesha Gay, 18, will be attending Grambling State University in the fall to major in kinesiology. Gay also received a $1,000 scholarship from 209 Together. In her essay, she detailed the challenge of balancing her ambitions running track & field with trying to pursue academic excellence.
“It was tough because I was stressed out about the SAT, but I also had to be the captain of my track team. And I wasn’t running the times I wanted to run.”
Gay said she got through a stressful junior year with the help of her parents.
“My mom talked to me and told me that it was OK if I didn’t make my track time,” she said. “And my dad just encouraged me, whether I ran well or not.”
This is the fourth year in a row that 209 Together has awarded scholarships to college-bound Proviso students. For the first three years of the scholarship, the Kiwanis Club of Forest Park served as its fiscal agent.
On Thursday, June 27, 7 to 10 p.m., 209 Together will host a fundraiser for the scholarship fund on the rooftop of Urban Pioneer Group, 7503 Madison St. in Forest Park.