Booker T. Washington’s Janiyah Kennedy

Booker T. Washington’s Janiyah Kennedy, third from left, and Alexander Castillo, third from right, are all smiles as they display checks from the Biscayne Bay Kiwanis Club for two full college scholarships — each valued up to $30,000 — presented during the school’s senior awards ceremony. With the award winners are, from left, BBKC Vice President Nellie Hernandez, Board Member Vyonda Moss, Scholarship Chairman Rick Freedman, BBKC President Kellie Gayoso and Board Nember Bob Arnold.

When Alexander Castillo and Janiyah Kennedy walked into the annual senior awards ceremony at Booker T. Washington Senior High School recently, both expected to win some trophies and certificates acknowledging their various accomplishments.

What they didn’t expect was a life-changing event.

The two 18-year-olds burst into tears and hugged when both their names were announced as winners of a four-year, fully paid college scholarship, each valued up to $30,000. It was the first time the Biscayne Bay Kiwanis Club, one of South Florida’s most active community service organizations, awarded two scholarships the same year.

Committee Chairman Rick Freedman, in dramatic fashion, described the Biscayne Bay Kiwanis’ Scholarship winners in general terms before providing specifics about the recipients.

“When they were getting ready to announce the winners, my friends kept saying, ‘its you, its you,’ “Kennedy said. “I couldn’t believe it.” Kennedy will attend Fort Valley State University in Georgia, majoring in civil engineering.

Castillo was similarly stunned when he was revealed as the second winner, wiping away tears and springing from his seat as he made a sign of the cross.

“I’m really grateful to Kiwanis for believing in me,” Castillo said. “I didn’t know how I was going to pay for college and now I don’t have to worry. This is a life-changing event for me and my family.” Castillo will attend the University of Central Florida, majoring in business and entrepreneurship.

The event marked the seventh and eighth full scholarships presented by the Biscayne Bay Kiwanis Club—a 68-year-old community organization serving disadvantages children in Overtown, Allapattah and Midtown Miami. The Club was able to award two scholarships thanks to an anonymous donor. The donor attended last year’s fundraising gala and was so impressed with the organization’s work with kids that he donated $30,000.

“Having that donation worked out perfectly for our club and the kids,” said Freedman, a former Biscayne Bay Kiwanis president. “After reading through 420 pages of applications from the 14 seniors who applied, the scholarship committee narrowed it down to two. After much discussion, we decided that both of these students deserved to win. And because of that donation we were able to do it.”

The Biscayne Bay Kiwanis Club has a wide variety of successful programs serving youth in the inner city. They include: an in-school reading program to help second graders prepare for their end-of-year exams; lessons in etiquette, civics and life skills; guided tours of the Everglades for children in shelters, public housing and foster care; gifts of school uniforms, supplies and backpacks to children in need; and awards of college scholarships to high school seniors. Over the last eight years, the BBKC has awarded more than $260,000 in scholarships throughout Miami-Dade County.

For more information about the Biscayne Bay Kiwanis, text or phone 305-814-2225.

Load comments