By Lewis C. Matusow
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 18-year-olds burst into tears and hugged when both their names were announced as winners of a four-year, fully paid college scholarship 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.
“When they were getting ready to announce the winners, my friends kept saying, it’s you, it’s you,” Kennedy said as she listened to the words Bay Kiwanis Scholarship Committee chair Rick Freedman used describing the winners in general terms. “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 service organization serving disadvantages children in Overtown, Allapattah, and Midtown Miami. The club was able to award two scholarships thanks to an anonymous donor — attending last year’s fundraising gala — who 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, 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 youngsters in the inner city. They include: an in-school reading program to help second graders prepare for their end-of-year exams; providing lessons in etiquette, civics, and life skills; guided tours of the Everglades for children in shelters, public housing, and foster care; feeding the homeless and giving Thanksgiving meals to families; chaperoning field trips to local attractions, museums and sporting events; volunteering with and providing holiday gifts and field trips to disabled adults; giving school uniforms, supplies and backpacks to children in need and awarding 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.