Skip to main content

Michael's DREAMS Coming True

Michael Strenta, a United Way of Long Island DREAMS for Youth Scholarship recipient, had been dealt a difficult hand as a child. Diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes at a young age, he has learned to not only deal with this but to use it as a motivation to strive for greatness. We are very proud of Michael, as he begins his studies as a freshman at the University of Arizona where he will be double majoring in biomedical engineering and music. Here is Michael's story:

Mahatma Gandhi once said, "Live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever."  These are the words that I live by.

At the age of three I was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes and my whole life routine as I knew it changed.  I no longer could eat cake, cupcakes, candy, things every child epitomizes their youth with.  Learning to adapt in order to survive, and being able to have control over my body with the food I ingested, also opened my mind toward this same control and balance in my life.  My ability as a young child to accept and understand the situation I was in, has made my transition to adulthood an easy one.  In order to live I have to inject myself with insulin everyday.  I learned from a young age that this was going to be a part of my life. 

I never feel sorry for myself - instead I work twice as hard to accomplish my goals, since I have to do that to maintain good health.  My diabetes has made me stronger since it is a part of me, something that is muscle memory, that it has allowed me to pursue everything and anything I put my mind to.  I am determined to do and be better than this disease. I do not let this disease define me, but rather I use it as a motivating tool to ensure that I am doing my best each and every day.  Diabetes has pushed me to work 100% each and every day.  Finding success is only certain by giving 100% on a daily basis.  I do not use my disease to get a higher standing in life.  Diabetes was the first curve ball in my life. This has made me ready for any challenge that comes my way.  Although diabetes has created many obstacles in my life, it has allowed me to view life in a positive light.  I always have the biggest smile on my face since I realize that I am so lucky to have the opportunity to be writing this today.  Diabetes is not a restriction, but a light in which I have been able to understand life much earlier than many.  Having diabetes at such a young age is surreal - as one is never the same.  I use diabetes to strengthen my values and goals, not defame them.  

From my illness, I found the drive to connect with people by giving back to my community.  I have been a member of the Knights of Columbus Squires for the past 7 years, having the titles of Notary and Chief Squire for the past 3 years.  As a squire, I partook in local food drives, pasta dinners and pancake breakfasts raising money for the poor in my community. I volunteered at the Long Island State Veterans Home wheeling veterans to mass on Sunday mornings.  I helped at the Dominican Village Assistant Living serving food to the elderly, setting up for family day, and helping in the Christmas pageants.  I was part of the pep band playing at community events.  I created a quartet group where we play for school sanctioned events.  I was part of the Spanish, Tri-M Music, and National Honor Societies.   Being part of the community makes me feel whole, and like a key component to a working society. I was part of the math team, red cross club, marching band, wind ensemble,  jazz ensemble, and pit orchestra for the school musicals.   I have been involved with the Usdan Camp for Performing and Fine Arts for the past 8 years.  I was selected for Breakfast of Champions honoring my music accomplishments.  I was awarded All-County, NYSCAME, All-County Jazz, and was selected to All-State as an alternate for my high NYSSMA ratings.  I have taken 11 advanced placement and 2 college level courses.  Because of my hard work I was ranked 7th in my graduating class. 

I hope to bring my educational, musical and personal experiences together by finding cures and treatments through devices and medicine in biomedical engineering and by playing music professionally with the ability to teach people that music is a language of emotion through music performance/education at the University of Arizona Honors College, a dream made possible thanks to my DREAMS for Youth scholarship.  My accomplishments and advanced activity in life was made available to me all by one singular event - being diagnosed with diabetes.  That single moment has helped me develop into the kind, caring, nurturing, smart, ambitious, successful, appreciative, thankful, and busy man I am today.      

The DREAMS for Youth Scholarship Program grants awards in two areas: 

Academic: Assists with costs associated with educational goals at a college, university, private or vocational school. Applicants must be in grade 12, demonstrate financial need and a commitment to community service. Financial awards range from $1,000 to $5,000.

Enrichment: Assists with costs associated with activities that enrich the soul, body, heart or inspire creativity. Examples may include music, singing, dance, art lessons; computer graphics training; acting, photography, fashion design; specialized summer camps etc. Funds may be used for enrollment fees, instruments and/or supplies. Applicants must be in grades 7-12, demonstrate financial need and a commitment to community service. Financial awards range from $100 to $2,500.

Scholarships on Long Island
Since its inception in 2002, United Way of Long Island has awarded scholarships and/or grants totaling more than $1,000,000. The DREAMS for Youth Advisory Board, comprised of 7th graders to college students, works under the guidance of United Way staff to make award decisions.

If you are Interested in applying for a DREAMS for Youth Scholarship
Click Here to Download an Application