Thanks to the generous support of community members like you, the You First Foundation was fortunate enough to be able to award 14 scholarships totaling $40,500 to qualifying students who have experienced a traumatic medical event at some point in their lives. The foundation has donated over $244,088 in scholarships to date.
This Year's Winners
Please join us in congratulating this year's deserving scholarship winners:
Alexandra's world changed irrevocably when her mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Amid the devastation, she found her strength and purpose, stepping up to care for her family and discovering her calling in occupational therapy. A horrifying school shooting in 2018 tested her community's strength. Alexandra, anchored by her resilience, provided much-needed emotional support to her peers.
Her commitment to service shines brightly in her community work. A University of Houston-Clear Lake student, Alexandra volunteers at The Wildlife Center of Texas, supports Houston's homeless, and aids foster children. Her aspirations of becoming an occupational therapist echo her resolve to turn personal trials into an instrument of hope and healing for others.
In the face of adversity, Alyssa Gustafson has demonstrated unparalleled strength and resilience. Growing up in a family with unique medical challenges, she has witnessed the impact of serious health issues firsthand. When her uncle tragically passed away due to an unexpected diagnosis of stage IV cancer, she learned the value of compassion and the unpredictability of life. Her sister, born with Cerebral Palsy, instilled in her a deep empathy for those with disabilities. This empathy became even more profound when, at 16, Alyssa was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, reshaping her dreams and daily life.
Despite these challenges, she has excelled academically and has committed herself to numerous community service endeavors, including significant contributions to HOSA and serving people experiencing homelessness. Through her job at Practically Pikasso, she has overcome her physical limitations, rising to the top position in her company. Her journey has not only refined her aspirations in the healthcare field but has also solidified her belief in the power of determination and kindness.
Amber Bain, a student at the University of North Texas at Dallas, embodies remarkable determination. Diagnosed in 2009 with a rare cancer, she underwent an intense surgical procedure, beating a 10% survival rate. This profound journey reshaped her perspective, making her cherish life's nuances and deepening her bond with her family. Moving to Dallas in 2019 significantly improved her health, thanks to the Baylor medical system.
Today, Amber channels her experience into community service, spearheading annual softball tournaments that have raised thousands for cancer patients. As she pursues her Business/Hospitality Management degree, set for completion in 2025, Amber aims to better her family's life and make a lasting community impact. Outside her academic pursuits, she showcases leadership in management, entrepreneurial spirit with her own business, and a love for travel, once embracing a nomadic life in an RV, underscoring her belief that "home is where the heart is."
Conner Higginbotham is on track to graduate from Oklahoma Christian University in 2027. His journey began at age seven when his father was diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. Soon after his father's passing, Conner was diagnosed with Absence Epileptic Seizures. Yet, adversity forged strength: he channeled his struggles into swimming, seeking to uplift his hometown of Wichita Falls, Texas, in UIL State Swimming rankings.
The Covid pandemic briefly sidelined him during his sophomore year, but he made a comeback in his junior year, qualifying for state championships. By his senior year, he clinched three silver medals and shattered four school/city records. Today, with his father's memory as a guiding star, Conner aims to coach young athletes, helping them navigate their own hurdles both in and out of the pool.
Emma Cheng, a University of Texas at Austin student, experienced a traumatic accident in her school parking lot in Midland, Texas, in 2022. This accident led to intense anxiety and fears, which she later confronted with the help of therapy. This newfound strength propelled her to become the stage manager for her school play and serve her community by delivering meals to the elderly with Meals on Wheels. Born to Chinese immigrants with engineering backgrounds, Emma discovered her passion for women's health, driven by the challenges women face in medical settings.
With aspirations in the medical field, she aims to advocate for improved women's healthcare. Beyond her academic interests, Emma has a rich background in music, starting piano lessons at the age of five and refining her skills over the years. She's determined to use her education to support her family and effect change in her community.
In his Junior year at Anna High School, Jacob Gasaway faced a sequence of debilitating medical events, the most challenging being a rare, potentially life-threatening sinus condition called Pott’s Puffy Tumor. This experience disrupted his academic and football pursuits, forcing him to reevaluate his path. Through immense perseverance, he shifted his focus from sports to academics, realizing that life had multiple avenues to success. Drawing from his experiences, Jacob educated his peers about the value of academics alongside sports, even inspiring his older brother to return to higher education.
As a Civil Engineering student at Prairie View A&M University, Jacob is committed to sustainability and environmentalism, with an ambition to reduce pollution and create a cleaner future. His resilience and adaptability not only shape his personal journey but also continue to positively influence his community.
Kelsie Vann is pursuing a Bachelor's Degree at Texas A&M University, aiming to graduate in May 2026. Her life pivoted when diagnosed with Crohn's Disease after a harrowing Memorial Day weekend hospital stay. This autoimmune disease targeting the intestinal lining demands daily dietary vigilance, monthly medical infusions, and frequent doctor visits. However, it has honed her adaptability and determination, crucial traits that have benefited her college journey.
Despite personal challenges, Kelsie remains community-driven. At Tomball High School, she organized events for special needs individuals and cancer fundraisers. At Texas A&M, she joined TAMU TTHA, aiding children with cancer and participating in Texas A&M's Big Event. Kelsie's education in Mays Business School, focusing on Human Resources Management, coupled with her dedication to service, highlights her commitment to positive change. She believes in kindness and aims to bring transformational impacts to her community through education and service.
From the dynamic basketball courts of high school to the enriching corridors of Louisiana State University, Khady Samb's journey has been nothing short of remarkable. Set to graduate with a degree in Kinesiology in 2026, Khady is a living example to the spirit of never giving up. A promising basketball player, she suffered a devastating injury, tearing her ACL, MCL, and meniscus, disrupting her plans of touring the country to secure a college basketball offer. The injury not only halted her sports ambitions but also her ability to work, leading to financial strains.
Determinedly, Khady turned to volunteer work for solace, notably building homes with Habitat for Humanity, a transformative experience that shifted her perspective on gratitude. Through this journey, she cultivated resilience, time-management skills, and a deep appreciation for life’s simple blessings. Furthering her education at LSU is more than just personal growth; it's a sign of hope and inspiration for her family and community, emphasizing the power of perseverance amidst challenges.
A student from Saint Edward’s University, Madison Joiner, has navigated an intricate medical journey since youth, battling conditions like sepsis, POTS, and gastroparesis. Despite three years in a wheelchair, her love for dance fueled a miraculous return to the stage by 2022. While navigating these health hurdles, Madison maintained an impressive 3.7 GPA. Her challenges didn't just shape her; they spurred her to raise awareness of invisible illnesses, notably through her influential YouTube and TikTok platforms.
With a spirit that blends resilience with humor, Madison seeks this scholarship to ease her family's financial burden from medical costs. Beyond her personal battles, Madison envisions a future advocating for transparency and patients' rights in healthcare.
Noah Alexander, an anticipated graduate from the University of St. Thomas with an Associate's degree in Pragmatic Studies, is a young man who has never let life's challenges define him. Diagnosed with epilepsy and Autism Spectrum Disorder as a child, he turned adversity into motivation for personal growth and community service. Noah credits his accomplishments to dedicated teachers, therapists, and family who supported him and taught him strategies to cope.
In return, he's committed to giving back, volunteering at the Houston Food Bank through the H.E.A.R.T. program and at his local Goodwill store. Now, Noah seeks further education, aiming not only to overcome personal obstacles but also to contribute more profoundly to his community. His determination is a testament to his resilience, demonstrating that even life's most significant trials can fuel one's drive for success and desire to make a positive impact.
Pablo Amaya Galeano
A Finance B.S. student at Texas A&M University, Pablo experienced a profound transformation during his freshman year when his mother was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. Amid the changes, Pablo discovered an inner strength and empathy deep enough to walk in another's shoes. This experience reshaped his priorities, imbuing him with a newfound appreciation for life's fragility and the importance of meaningful relationships.
Pablo's personal growth ignited a commitment to helping others, which he manifests through philanthropic endeavors within his Sigma Chi fraternity. As Philanthropy and Derby Days executive, he's raised significant funds for the Huntsman Cancer Institute. His aspiration to venture into investment banking is driven by his desire to alleviate the economic burdens faced by many families. Furthering his education will enable him to make impactful contributions to his community, supporting the fight against cancer and helping families navigate their unique journeys.
Driven by a profound personal journey, Roy Martinez has developed a deep passion for healthcare advocacy. After experiencing the devastating loss of his father to liver cirrhosis, Roy became a staunch advocate for those dealing with chronic health conditions. This life-altering event transformed his perspective, teaching him the value of resilience, family, and the preciousness of every moment.
He channeled his experiences into local fundraising and awareness campaigns for liver disease, while also volunteering at hospitals to improve patient experiences. This commitment has led him toward a potential career in healthcare policy, with a vision to create lasting, positive impacts. Meanwhile, he's also pursuing a Political Science degree at the University of Texas at San Antonio, expecting to graduate in 2026. His father's struggle has made an enduring imprint, shaping Roy into a compassionate individual, resolved to catalyze meaningful changes in his community.
Sydney Fraser, a senior at the University of Michigan, is pursuing a degree in Public Policy. Sydney’s life is marked by a battle with Amplified Muscular Pain Syndrome and Sacroiliitis from sixth grade, which fostered her strength, resilience, and desire to serve others. Despite daily battles with pain and fatigue, she became an integral part of her community, bringing joy to children battling illnesses at Ronald McDonald House.
Sydney's leadership and dedication are evident as a Texas Senator for Girls Nation, President of Model United Nations, and Speech Captain for Varsity Speech and Debate. Her personal experiences and active involvement have fueled her ambition to promote equity in the juvenile justice system. Sydney envisions her future in public policy, hoping to create legislation that offers young people a better start in life. She views her university education as a key to benefiting her community and serving her country.
After her mother developed Post-Partum Cardiomyopathy at Yousra's birth and later suffered from two heart attacks and an Anoxic Brain Injury in 2013, Yousra was thrust into the role of a caregiver at a tender age. Despite the hardships, she leveraged her experience to serve her community, volunteering at Memorial Hermann Hospital and mentoring high school students through Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
Yousra, majoring in Cognitive Science with minors in Psychology and Law, aims to become a Medical Malpractice lawyer to address flaws in the healthcare system that she experienced firsthand. She's been a proactive leader as Vice President of the National Honors Society in high school and the Director of Finance and Donor Relations at the University of Southern California’s Troy Camp. With a seven-year softball career, Yousra has developed teamwork and quick decision-making skills. Her journey has imbued her with a robust sense of empathy and motivation to advocate for those in similar situations.