When a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated her home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2010, Reina barely understood what was happening. She watched the only life she ever knew shake, shatter and crumble until all that was left was the vague sense that she’d never return to the normalcy she once had.
Later that year, having lost neighbors and friends, she uprooted her life completely and came to the United States. As she started fifth grade, Reina found herself struggling with a new environment, new culture and a new language. “I struggled to learn English and to make new friends. I even struggled to write in print, having not known that was even a thing,” she remembered. “I went from being at the top of my class in Haiti to barely passing.” However, as difficult as the experience was, the obstacles she faced motivated Reina to excel at every turn and propelled her to greater success in the years to come.
By the time she reached her senior year at Roosevelt High School, Reina was third in her class with an average of 99.43. Her merits include memberships in the National Honor Society and the National Art Honor Society, as well as a spot on the Principal’s Honor Roll for maintaining an average of over 95 for several semesters. Reina earned these accolades through hard work, especially in AP classes such as Psychology, World History, Biology, Studio Art, and Chemistry, as well as an elite online, college-level Calculus course.
“Reina has an excitement about learning that was evident daily. She worked really hard to be the best that she could be,” said one of her teachers, Despina Forakis. “She was an exceptional student who enjoyed learning. As a teacher, I cannot ask for anything more.” In addition to achieving academic success in every subject, Reina also participated in some of her school’s organizations. As a member of the Mathletes, she attended math competitions, and as a member of her school’s Students Against Drunk Driving Club (SADD), she advocated for the avoidance of destructive life decisions.
Reina has every intention of continuing to thrive, she completed her first semester at Nassau Community College after receiving a United Way of Long Island Scholarship with a 4.0 GPA. Pursuing a major in computer science, she looks forward to building on what she has learned from her advanced classes in high school and to using her newfound skills to contribute to society. Though her future was once colored by uncertainty and fear, Reina can be sure that, with her determination and persistence, the world is at her fingertips.
Since 2002, United Way of Long Island has awarded more than $1,000,000 in scholarships and grants to deserving students. Scholarships open to the public include the DREAMS for Youth Scholarship Program, and the Camilla G. Belser Memorial Scholarship Fund.