Today’s Feature Friday post is a little different. We will be interviewing our past scholarship winner, Austin Fitzgerald. Austin won our scholarship in 2018 when she put together the Mindstrings Violin tutoring program. You can see her original video she submitted here.
Austin has been at the University of Chicago for two years now. She has kept in contact with MindStrings and has been working on a way to become qualified for the program to accept donations.
Since then, she has also become involved with a program on her campus called South Side Free Music Program. Her role is a violin teacher offering free lessons to the youth on the south side of Chicago. She is using this resource to hopefully have MindStrings expand to Chicago where she is located, however, COVID-19 threw off her plan. While Zoom and other online video call platforms may be an option, the majority of the students she would teach do not have this accessibility in their homes. This is something she is still working on.
Another way Austin has found to serve with her music ability while at school is by playing the violin to cancer patients at UChicago’s hospital. This is part of her MindStrings outreach program and she is working on recruiting others to do this with her.
Austin is double majoring in Pre-Medical and Anthropology with a biology minor, she has been busy in her studying! She is the current Co-President of the African and Caribbean Student Association at the University of Chicago. On top of this, she has been exploring her interests in childhood development and social mobility through her job as a research assistant at the Thirty Million Words Center for Early Learning + Public Health. Way to go Austin!
We are extremely proud of Austin and all of her accomplishments at college, especially during this difficult time where the pandemic has halted some of her plans.
If you would like to learn more about our scholarship and see how you can apply, check out our scholarship webpage.
This is part of a series of interviews with our scholarship recipients for our 2020 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! For information on our 2020 program, click here”.
The top recipient for our scholarship this year is Caitlin Gill from Plano, Texas where she graduated from Plano West Senior High School. At the beginning of her Freshman year of high school, Caitlin became ill and was diagnosed with two chronic conditions. She experienced delays in her speech, reading and writing, and overall daily living activities. Caitlin was drawn to the special needs community at her school after she was made fun of for reading slow and not completing her work as quickly as other students, both results of her chronic health conditions. She started to notice that the kids in the special needs community were often overlooked and gained compassion for them. She became committed to improving the lives of those with special needs and giving them the resources to lead happy, independent, and fulfilling lives.
Students all across the world faced a different challenge during the spring of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic swept through our communities, ultimately sending everyone home. Many kids who weren’t able to attend school suffered during this and was something Caitlin took note of. The friends she made in the special needs community especially, rely on the day to day interaction with their peers. Her desire to continue to help them drove her to start F.L.EX.S.P.A.C.E.(which stands for Friendship. Lifestyle. Exercise. Special. People. Acceptance. Compassion. Experience.).
F.L.EX.S.P.A.C.E. is a virtual program where Caitlin leads daily exercises with her special needs friends over a zoom call. The main goal of this program is to provide friendship and inclusion, while also promoting a healthy and active lifestyle. When immersing herself in the special needs community, she was able to identify the different needs of each student. Some peers needed more encouragement, while others desired opportunities to feel needed. Despite these differing challenges, she realized that what they all need is at least one peer to look past their disabilities and embrace them with love and friendship. Through F.L.EX.S.P.A.C.E. she is able to be that peer for them. She advocates for their needs and encourages them to work towards their aspirations and recognize their own potential. Caitlin’s biggest hope for the program is that each of her peers walks away with a friend. Someone they can depend on to be kind and accepting. Caitlin has noticed a positive change within many of her peers. At school, she noticed they were tired, overwhelmed, and didn’t interact with each other. Within the first two weeks of the zoom workouts, they were expressing themselves more and had achieved overall happiness within themselves and with life.
Caitlin will be attending Texas Woman’s University in the fall of 2020. With staying local to her community, she will be able to continue growing the F.L.EX.S.P.A.C.E. program while attending school. She would eventually like to hold in-person activities once it is safe to do so. While this is a program she started at her home, she has close relationships with teachers at Plano West and hopes to be able to implement F.L.EX.S.P.A.C.E. in a school setting.