The following article originally appeared on lehighvalleylive.com.
By Rudy Miller | For lehighvalleylive.com
Facing mountains, they climbed them
Gabriella Greenhoward lost everything when Superstorm Sandy swept through the northeast. Lexi Vega is legally blind, living with a mother who was out of work and struggling to make ends meet. Their scholastic achievements and ability to overcome obstacles won each young woman a full scholarship to Moravian College.
Each was surprised to learn she had won the scholarship on Monday. Greenhoward had a ceremony at Freedom High School and Vega at Liberty. The Bethlehem Area School District superintendent’s scholarship covers the annual tuition for four years. This year tuition is $42,164.
“This is so exciting,” said a trembling Greenhoward after she was announced as the winner. “I am just so happy and I am so proud.”
Greenhoward moved to Bethlehem a month and a half after Superstorm Sandy devastated her home in Rockaway Beach, Queens. The home was between the ocean and the bay. The October 2012 storm submerged the entire town, according to her mother, Yadira Greenhoward. The car was underwater and the downstairs completely submerged.
At first they moved to a homeless shelter, which was overrun not just with storm victims but people homeless before the storm. The power was out for six months. When it returned, the home was so overrun by mold and damaged by the storm it was uninhabitable.
After the shelter, Gabriella and her sister lived with friends while the parents stayed with family. FEMA aid allowed them to move to a hotel in December 2012. The closet hotel they could find to New York was the Courtyard by Marriott on Airport Road in Bethlehem. Once they moved to the area they never left.
“I am very, very proud,” Yadira Greenwood said. “Words will never be able to explain all the joy you feel inside.”
Putting education first
Vega’s sister, Brianna, is attending Boston University on a nearly-full scholarship. Her mother cashed in part of her 401k to make up some of the difference. The single parent was out of work until recently, when she got a job as a slot machine attendant at the Mount Airy Casino Resort. So she had no idea how she would pay for her second daughter’s tuition as she struggled just to pay her bills.
“Financially this just takes a big burden off the family,” said her mother, Liz Rivera. “For us education is not an option. You need an education.” Rivera has a degree in special education and her mother is a retired teacher.
Lexi Vega has distinguished herself by participating in the high school band, leading the club Cancer Crushers and through extensive volunteer work at Musikfest. She excels in Advanced Placement classes and juggles her schedule without letting her vision get in her way. Her mother said thick corrective lenses improve her vision, but she’s still considered legally blind.
Lexi shuns the spotlight. The surprised 17-year-old covered her face and welled up when she saw photographers and administrators waiting to congratulate her over her accomplishment. Her mother said she’s not shy when it comes to schoolwork or extracurriculars.
Their life paths
Lexi and Gabriella are each seniors at their high schools. They’re beneficiaries of the scholarship created a year and a half ago. Lexi lives near Nitschmann Middle School in west Bethlehem. Gabriella lives on the South Side and at one point lived across the street from Freedom High School.
Lexi plans to study business with an emphasis on finance and marketing. Gabriella is undecided but most enjoys English and history classes.
Yadira Greenhoward said her daughter hated reading when she was in fourth grade. So she arranged her desk like that of a reporter and had her complete assignments on deadline. Now Gabriella is the editor of the school newspaper and a book lover.
Both families plan to celebrate with a special dinner tonight. Gabriella Greenhoward’s father, Carter, said the family is headed to Smashburger.
Moravian College traces its origin to a girls' school founded in May 1742 by sixteen-year-old Countess Benigna von Zinzendorf. The college is among the oldest in the United States, according to its president, Bryon L. Grigsby.