Three LBT women. Three different stories. One common denominator.
Bridget Pelaez started out wanting to be a nurse. But as she finishes nursing school, she’s decided that she wants to further her education to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine.
Charrise Alexander, a law student at the University of Miami, teaches Street Law at Breakthrough Miami, an academic enrichment program for students from disadvantaged communities in Miami-Dade. After graduation, she plans to take the Bar and work at a law firm in Washington, D.C.
Kim Ehly is completing her Master of Social Work in May 2013, and intends to open a private practice as a psychotherapist and life coach. She also created her own theater company, Kutumba Theatre Project, which premiered the award-winning play, Baby GirL, a production she wrote and directed.
Those three LBT women are on three different career paths—but last year, they each received support from the same organization: the Aqua Foundation for Women (AFW).
Since 2007, AFW has offered scholarships for LBT women to attend colleges and universities in South Florida. In 2012, they presented fifteen scholarships for a total of $53,000.
Executive Director of AFW, Robin Schwartz, shared that the organization was “inspired by the model set by the Point Foundation [another scholarship program for LGBTQ students].” She also named what Aqua Scholars have in common: “the desire for higher education, proven success in previous endeavors, and a past experience and present interest in being part of the greater LGBT community through service.”
What also adds to the success of the Aqua Scholarship experience is the mentorship program.
“Each scholar is matched with a mentor,” Schwartz said. “There are monthly reports to assure the mentors and scholars are meeting the requirements of the program, [and] we hold quarterly meetings where all the mentors and the scholars get together.”
Alexander reflected on the significance of the mentorship program: “The scholarship has given me great access to LBT women who are leaders in the South Florida community… our quarterly meetings have become a great space for community and a safe space to find support for my struggles and cheerleaders for my successes.”
In addition to support, mentors encourage scholars to give something back to their communities.
“[They] have shown me that as a strong lesbian woman, I cannot only achieve my own personal goals, but I may be able to help others achieve theirs,” Pelaez said. Some of her accomplishments include organizing toy and food drives during the holidays, and establishing a Mentor/ Mentee day for new nursing students at Nova Southeastern University.
Ehly has also found value in mentors. “The relationships I have built with the women of Aqua will continue to be a strong network of support and mutual respect long after I graduate.”
This year, in addition to the general scholarship, AFW presents two new scholarships: one for LBT women with physical disabilities, and another for LBT Latina women.
There will also be more focus on developing leaders.
“Our new Program Director Elsa Roberts is currently creating a course which will help the scholars learn vital leadership skills necessary for career advancement,” Schwartz said. Their emphasis will be on “building a strong core of women to lead the LBT community for years to come.”
What: Aqua Scholarship Program for LBT Women
When: Scholarship applications accepted until Monday, February 25, 2013
Where: Visit AquaFoundation.org/scholarships for complete guidelines and an application
Aqua Foundation for Women
4500 Biscayne Boulevard, Suite 340
Miami, Florida 33137