Thanks to the generous support of community members like you, the You First Foundation was fortunate enough to be able to award 16 scholarships to qualifying students who have experienced a traumatic medical event at some point in their lives. The foundation has donated over $40,000 in scholarships in 2021. Your support truly makes all of this possible.
This Year's Winner's
Please join us in congratulating this year's deserving scholarship winners:
When Aaliyah received the news that her father was in a motorcycle accident, her mind immediately went to worst-case scenarios, including the possibility of losing him. Fortunately, her father survived, but he ultimately underwent a below-the-knee leg amputation that could have significantly altered his life if he let it. Due to his perseverance and determination, he was able to walk again only six months after his accident. This left Aaliyah with a new purpose and direction in life: to become a physical therapist.
Aaliyah is pursuing a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Kinesiology with a minor in Marketing from the University of North Texas, and she is expected to graduate in 2024. Through her work, she hopes to help others with disabilities realize their capabilities just like her father did. She serves as a Campus Life Ambassador and is the Public Relations Officer for the university’s Progressive Black Student Organization, where she was awarded freshman and Rookie of the Year. She also has immediate plans to launch a mentoring program for children with disabilities or who have family members with disabilities. One professor said she has a “heart to learn” and another deemed her a “hard working, well-mannered, committed, life-long learner.”
After losing many of her belongings during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Alexandra was shocked when her mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her mother immediately had to undergo surgery to remove the tumor, and during this time, Alexandra stepped up to take on many of her mother’s duties around the house, including care of her little sister, cooking, cleaning, and running errands - all while attending school. This experience brought her family together and shaped who she is today. Those who know her say she has a wonderful personality, and she has been there for her family, friends, and community in times of need. She was involved in her high school’s bowling and sewing clubs as well as her participation in the National Honor Society.
Alexandra is an active volunteer at Habitat for Horses and has recently joined the Canoe Club Houston as its youngest member. She enjoys traveling, being outdoors, and kayaking in her free time. Alexandra plans to earn her Bachelor’s of Science in Fitness and Human Performance from the University of Clear Lake Houston in 2023.
As a lifelong athlete accustomed to playing basketball, baseball, and soccer, it came as a shock to Austin when, during church in November 2019, he became disoriented and suffered from blurred vision. After numerous doctor’s appointments, he was eventually diagnosed with severe Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. While this still affects Austin’s daily life, it has also helped him grow and mature. His faith has deepened, and he is known as someone who helps others, even running a Facebook page for his schoolmates who share his condition.
Now a college student studying religion at Baylor University as well as a licensed EMT-B, he said his medical challenges have taught him patience and understanding. And despite the physical and mental challenges brought on by his diagnosis, Austin has been able to participate in undergraduate research, to work as a university employee distributing coronavirus vaccines, and to work at an accounting firm during his summer break. His love for research began after his discovery of a bacteriophage “Esteekay” during his first semester at Baylor University with his lab partner. Austin plans to finish his undergraduate degree ahead of schedule in the spring of 2023.
When Brennden Foster was in the fourth grade, he suffered a traumatic brain injury while playing a game of flag football. The injury meant six months with limited sunlight and no electronics while he recovered, as well as countless therapy sessions with specialists.
His experience has spurred him to advocate for others who have suffered the same fate and even those who haven’t, with him taking the time to talk to high school sports coaches and athletes about the risks they face and how to take care to avoid getting hurt. Brennden has plans to continue to be of service to his community and hopes to inspire others with injuries, so they can accomplish their goals and realize their dreams.
His teachers call him an inspiration and describe him as a person who is “determined to succeed and refuses to hide behind his injury.” Another remembers his sense of humor and infectious laugh. Once he completes his Associate’s Degree of Applied Science in Child and Human Development in 2023, Brennden has plans to transfer to Stephen F. Austin for his bachelor’s degree.
Catherine Earley likely didn’t expect to spend part of her time as a newlywed in the hospital or coping with illness, but that’s exactly what happened when, not a year into her marriage, she suffered a traumatic brain injury. What followed was cognitive deterioration, a seizure, and a trip to the emergency room where a brain hemorrhage was discovered. More tests led to a diagnosis of orthostatic hypotension and dysphasia.
Nevertheless, she persevered, regaining her health and using her newfound understanding of what patients go through to fuel her education - a master’s degree in social work - and her current job as an assistant professor of social work. She said her personal experiences help her to train her students in offering crucial support to their clients.
Her coworkers agree, saying her injury gives her the unique ability to relate to those who suffer from emotional dysregulation. Catherine is enrolled at Texas Tech University, where she is pursuing a doctorate degree in Counselor Education with plans to graduate in 2024. Not only will Catherine be attending Texas Tech, but her oldest of two will be starting alongside her this fall.
While preparing to go on a trip to Los Angeles with her friends, D’Erica’s plans were suddenly interrupted with the news from her doctor that she had a rare form of skin cancer. Now, D’Erica is facing 25 rounds of radiation therapy and two additional surgeries.
While she works with her doctors on her care, D’Erica remains focused on her studies. As a student at the University of Houston, she’s working to earn a degree in Technology Leadership & Innovation Management, an important step in her goal to work at a big-name tech company and empower Black women that such a career is possible. She is currently the Director of Women’s Empowerment at the University of Houston, and she also devotes her time to Collegiate 100 where she mentors high school students and plans social gatherings and events for college students. D’Erica also organized a “Hope for the Homeless” fundraiser, collecting more than $500 and allowing her to donate 200 care packages to the needy in her community.
D’Erica’s former mentor called her “organized, thoughtful and intelligent,” and her former boss calling her “compassionate, honest and humble.”
When Dylan suddenly lost his father earlier this year, he quickly became the sole breadwinner in his family, supporting both his mother and his younger sister. Before he passed, his father had talked to Dylan about his dream of becoming a firefighter, and now he’s working to make that dream come true. Following his father’s heart attack, his desire to help others as a first responder is even stronger than before, and he believes his personal tragedy will make him a better and more compassionate firefighter.
Although he is studying to earn an Associate’s Degree in Fire Science from Weatherford College in 2022, Dylan is already actively learning his future trade as a volunteer for the Central Community Volunteer Fire Department. In Dylan’s free time, he loves to hunt and do anything outdoors. He is an active helper in his community, assisting people wherever he sees a need, hoping only to inspire others to do the same. Dylan said he gets this from his father and wants to honor his legacy by continuing it. A family friend, who is retired from the United States Air Force, calls Dylan a “young man of unparalleled character, drive, and determination.”
When Hanna was a young child, she lost both her father to a heart attack and then her mother to drug addiction, so she was raised by her aunt and uncle. Then, at age 8, her uncle was diagnosed with lung cancer, a disease that would ultimately take his life. Even through this, her aunt showed her how to keep her spirits high, focus on the positive, and not dwell in the past.
Although she’s been through a lot for a young person, Hanna’s experiences have taught her to be appreciative of all she has and the blessings she’s been given. She’s paid it forward by volunteering at summer camps and serving as an ambassador for the College Board Opportunity Ambassador Program. She’s also succeeded academically, earning science fair awards and using her strong math and science skills to tutor younger students. She’s worked as an intern for the Houston Museum of Natural Science and as an English tutor for Spanish-speaking adults.
Her teachers call her “insightful, creative and adaptable” with strong critical-thinking skills. Another called her an eloquent speaker with impressive leadership qualities. In Hanna’s free time, she loves to dance everywhere that she goes. Hanna is working toward a degree in Business Management at Blinn College, with plans to graduate in 2023.
In 2019, Jordan’s father underwent back surgery that led to bacterial meningitis, which caused a brain aneurysm. This brain aneurysm affected her father’s personality and memory, and luckily her mother noticed these changes in him quickly, so he was able to receive treatment before it was too late. As a result of this, her father lost his job, and Jordan lost her job due to the COVID pandemic, leaving only her mother’s income to provide for the family.
The experience taught her resilience and gave her the confidence to handle whatever challenges life throws her way. It even inspired her to co-write a book titled “Lessons From 2020: Learning in Quarantine.” Jordan said she hopes the book helps others suffering with traumatic events to know they are not alone.
Looking forward, Jordan hopes to become a math teacher. She said math skills impact every area of life and wants to impart that importance to the students she tutors. She also serves her community by helping with clothing drives, including prom dresses for young women who don’t have the means to purchase gowns themselves, and working as a Resident Advisor at her university. Her professors call her “kind and generous” and one of the hardest working students they’ve ever taught. Jordan is working toward a Bachelor’s Degree of Science in Psychology and Mathematics at the University of Houston - The Honors College with plans to graduate in May 2022.
Kelly Ann LeJeune
When she was born, Kelly Ann LeJeune only weighed two pounds, three ounces and could fit into her father’s hand. She came into this world three months early and was forced to spend two months in the hospital. After her premature birth, doctors predicted Kelly Ann would be completely immobile and wheelchair-bound for life. Though she has since been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and must use a wheelchair, Kelly managed to graduate in the top 2 percent of her high school class and was able to WALK across the stage at her high school graduation.
Her experience has taught her to never give up, a lesson she’s happy to share with others who ask her about her disability. She hopes her story inspires others to strive for their goals no matter the obstacles and challenges they may face. In fact, Kelly is leading a full life, has participated in her school and church choir, and is a member of the National Honor Society.
Her teachers describe her as a “take-charge person,” and another said she “is in awe of (Kelly Ann’s) commitment to learning and excellence.”
She is planning to attend the University of Houston where she will pursue a Bachelor’s of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders. She hopes to graduate in 2025 and go to work as a pediatric speech therapist.
For most of his life, Landon’s mother suffered from a severe case of Type 1 diabetes that was very difficult to control. In late 2020 during Landon’s senior year of high school, her battle took a turn for the worse, and she fell into a coma and eventually passed away. Although his mother wasn’t physically there for his graduation this year, Landon could feel her there, and he works to make his mother proud in everything he does.
Now Landon hopes to be an example to his peers, urging them to see they can choose joy and happiness despite the circumstances they find themselves in. He demonstrated how to do that by remaining active throughout high school, despite his mother’s frequent trips to the hospital. As a student, Landon was a part of the Future Farmers of America club, raising and showing cattle, steer and goats for competitions. Landon achieved the statewide award of Texas Lone Star Farmer as well as the Beef Proficiency award in Magnolia FFA.
His teachers called him “honest and dependable” and lauded his relationships with his peers. He credits his grandfather for instilling in him a passion for welding and contributing positively to his future. Landon carried that spirit to Tulsa Welding School where he will graduate in 2022.
Linden’s life changed forever in 2015 when she woke up unable to move or feel anything from the waist down. Visits with doctors, including 40 appointments in a year, only left her more confused as doctors not only didn’t know what was wrong with her, but some even accused her of faking her injury. Linden’s condition worsened, leading to digestive issues, pain, a feeding tube, and a host of other problems. Finally, when she traveled to Georgia for physical therapy, doctors there were able to diagnose her with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which stemmed from an incomplete spinal cord injury brought on by a genetic condition.
This experience made Linden realize her own resilience and determination, and it spurred her to become an advocate for her own care as well as for others. Now, as a college student at Texas Lutheran University, Linden is a senator in the Student Body Government, participated in a summer research program at the Environmental Physiology Lab, and has worked as an intern at a rehabilitation facility where she also served as a peer mentor to teens going through the rehab program. In her free time, she enjoys adaptive horseback riding, as well as spending time with family.
Linden plans to graduate in 2024 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Integrated Science and a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology, with an ultimate goal of becoming a pediatric physical medicine doctor. Knowing how hard it was for her to find a physician that understood her, Linden wants to become a skilled and compassionate physician that is a force for good in her patients’ lives.
Born six months premature, Mayra spent the first three months of her life in the hospital, where many believed she would not survive. At the age of two, she was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, but she preserved and learned to walk using a walker. Unfortunately, a hip injury caused by her CP caused her to become wheelchair bound when she was nine.
The incident and the loss of her previous mobility left her in tremendous emotional pain, and it wasn’t until she participated in therapy and attended a camp for kids her age with similar disabilities that she began to heal from those emotional wounds. Now, Mayra helps others do the same, serving as a volunteer at Camp For All 2U for pediatric patients at Texas Children’s Hospital and at Camp Be An Angel, where she’s worked as a Spanish translator and served as an ambassador. These life experiences have allowed Mayra to engage in personal growth, to socialize more with her peers, and to discover her purpose in life.
Those who know her said she is “exceptionally gifted at making others feel comfortable and always maintaining a positive attitude.” A first generation college student at the University of Houston, Mayra is pursuing a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Human Development and Family Studies, which she plans to complete in 2023 or 2024. Her career goal is to become a child life specialist.
When she was 10, Rania’s father was first diagnosed with head and neck cancer, and after a months-long battle, he was able to beat the cancer. This spring, her father’s cancer returned and her ultimately succumbed to the disease. Rania’s father has inspired her to be there for her others and to show her love to her family words as well as through her actions. Strengthened by her father’s support and encouragement, Rania is now following in her lifelong dream to become a nurse.
Her high school years have been marked by high achievement, including participation in the
Future Business Leaders Association, Student Council, the Speech and Debate Team and membership in the National Honor Society. Her teachers remember her as “outgoing, creative, and resourceful” and a person with a great sense of humor who can defuse stressful situations.
Rania has plans to attend Sam Houston State University, where she will work toward a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Nursing, and she is also looking to volunteer with oncology patients, showing them love and support as they go through tough times. She plans to complete her studies in 2025.
When his mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2020, Ron began doing everything he could to help his family and make the most of this painful situation. He changed his college plans from attending school in Colorado to going to college in Texas. He also had to start working multiple jobs, working in construction, roofing, and painting whenever he could to bring in as much money as he possible. He hopes the money he brings in will not only help him stay debt-free while attending college, but will also help relieve his family’s financial strain from medical bills.
Though his mother’s cancer is a new development, Ron is no stranger to hard work, having served as an apprentice blacksmith, volunteered at the Scarborough Renaissance Festival, and machined parts that went into space through an internship with NASA. He also was a competitive gymnast before an injury led him to switch to coaching, and he performs on the NBA Dallas Mavericks performance Dunk Team. His boss touted his boundless energy and said he “accomplishes every task with spirit and drive and never shirks his responsibilities, but instead pushes further to achieve a higher level of quality and satisfaction.”
Ron will attend the University of Texas at Dallas where he plans to study psychology. He hopes to graduate in 2025.
When she was born, Yousra’s mother developed postpartum cardiomyopathy, leaving her with a weakened heart. Over the ensuing years, this led to continuous health problems, and when Yousra was just 10, her mother developed a pulmonary embolism, resulting in two heart attacks and, eventually, a brain injury. Through all her mother’s trials, Yousra has been by her side, giving care and help as best she could, including bathing her, administering medication and checking her vitals. Her challenges also inspired her to volunteer at her local food bank and hospital, comforting and helping those suffering from medical traumas.
Her teachers call her “passionate,” “empathetic,” and “kind.” In high school, she played softball and was a member of the National Honor Society among other activities and achievements. As a college student, she has devoted time to Troy Camp, where she was given the opportunity to virtually mentor students at the Los Angeles Unified School District, helping them manage their emotions while living through the coronavirus pandemic.
Yousra attends the University of Southern California where she is pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Neuroscience with plans to graduate in 2024.