Monday, September 14, 2009

2009 Students of Parents with Disabilities Scholarship Winners Announced

BERKELEY, Calif. – September 9, 2009 – The National Center for Parents with Disabilities and their Families at Through the Looking Glass announced the winners of its 2009 College Scholarships for Students of Parents with Disabilities. Funding was only available for eleven scholarships, yet over 900 students from across the U.S. applied these scholarships. Although there are over 9 million American parents with disabilities, there are almost no scholarships specifically for the hundreds of thousands of students who have parents with disabilities. These awards not only recognize the diversity and contributions of these families, but their financial need. Approximately 25% of U.S. families with a disabled parent live below the official poverty level for families of their size and geographic location, and are twice as likely to be below the poverty level than are families with non-disabled parents. In addition, standard college financial aid applications do not typically weigh the considerable medical expenses or specialized equipment expenses of many parents with disabilities. These expenses can substantially reduce a family’s annual income by tens of thousands of dollars.

Each award is a $1,000 college scholarship for an outstanding high school senior or college student who has at least one parent with a disability. Selection criteria included academic performance, community service, letters of recommendation and an essay describing the experience of growing up with a parent with a disability. Students applying for these scholarships included those with parents who were quadriplegic, blind, deaf, amputees, as well as parents with spinal cord injury, cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, mental illness, polio, traumatic brain injury, muscular dystrophy or intellectual disability. As one of several projects of the National Center , these scholarships are funded through the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education.

Eleven $1,000 scholarships have been awarded to the following students: High School Seniors: Ansley Bredar (Danville, KY), Allen Etzler III (Walkersville, MD), Alina Ostrow (Franklin, MA), Jeffrey Rosenbaum (Dallas, TX), Danielle Spencer (Layton, UT), and Sarah Steelman (Las Vegas, NV). College Students: Amanda Gallagher (Feasterville, PA), Matthew Gorman (Torrington, CT), Courtney Kurinec (Cameron, NC), Caitlin Thorn (Las Vegas, NV), and Lee Vandivier (Philadelphia, PA).

In their essays, the winning students describe routine, remarkable and sometimes difficult stories of parents with disabilities and their children. Individual stories are dramatic, candid, humorous, loving, provocative and moving. Despite the wide variation in parental disability and other demographic features among scholarship applicants, several consistent themes emerged that have been documented over the years by Through the Looking Glass in several national research studies: the normalcy of growing up with a parent with a disability, and the resilience and strength of these families despite social and financial obstacles. Below are excerpts from essays by four of the scholarship winners:

My father suffered a major stroke in 2004 and many of the effects of that stroke are still with him today. Living with a person who is disabled obviously has its down sides and is pretty tough, but what people don’t realize is that I’m kind of lucky. I’ve had the opportunity to become far closer to my father than most kids will ever be. –Allen Etzler III

Watching my mom fight to get out of bed and walk by herself, things I normally take for granted, has taught me how much power I have to accomplish whatever I put my mind to. Believing she should have died decades ago, my mother is a medical miracle by no accident. Despite the bad hand she’s been dealt, my mother is one of the strongest people I know and has taught me that a good attitude can go a long way. From her I have learned that as long as I believe in myself, no hurdle is ever too big to overcome. – Sarah Steelman

I know that life has not dealt my father the best hand, but I am still very proud of him, not only for what he has done for this country and for our family, but for the fact that he wakes up every day, in chronic pain, and doesn’t give up. I am proud of the fact that he wants to help other injured soldiers. My father has inspired me to not give up when things get bad, because if he can live with severe pain for years, then I can deal with whatever life hands me. – Courtney Kurinec

So, what is it like growing up with parents who have a disability? In many ways it is just like growing up with a parent who does not have a disability. The trick to adolescent survival is to remember that some days go smoothly with little conflict, where other days are filled with embarrassment, frustration, and anger. My wisdom is that disabled persons are also abled persons in so many ways and the goal is to search out and discover the gifts. –Jeffrey Rosenbaum

Complete essays of all the scholarship winners are posted on Through the Looking Glass’ website:

Many of the essays underscore the need for increased resources and accommodations for disabled parents and their families throughout the U.S. Despite some progress, parents with disabilities and their families remain largely invisible in the larger society and are often left to fend for themselves with inadequate and inaccessible resources. For many families, their best and only resources are the family members themselves.

A new round of scholarship applications will be announced on Through the Looking Glass’ website in January 2010.

Also, anyone wishing to contribute to this Scholarship Fund may make a donation to “Through the Looking Glass, and indicate that this is for the Scholarship Fund. Mail to: Through the Looking Glass, 2198 Sixth Street #100 , Berkeley , CA 94710 or call (800) 644-2666. Donations may also be made via PayPal on Through the Looking Glass’ Donations web page.


  1. Is there anyone in Michigan out there?

  2. i know that life has not gave my dad the best hand in life and luck but unfourtunetly you cant do anything about it. im very proud of my because the fact that he wakes up everyday, struggling and in such bad pain and doesnt give up. my dad has inspired me o=to not give up when bad things happen this is because if he can live with severe oain for almost his whole life, and for my whole life than i can live with whatever life hands me. watching my dad live his life like this literaly breaks my heart. and i know it breaks his heart too because he always tells me and my sister he wants to do things with us but its ok because just seeing him and spending time with him makes up for that. Its the fact that people with disabled parent(s) should appriciate that they are still here for you and no matter what they love you. the littlest things make him happy weather its a text just saying i love you dad, or coming over and watching a movie, give him a kiss on the cheeck i love seeing him happy, and he doesn let his dissability make him missrable.