Five Local High School Students Awarded 2020 HOPE for Youth Foundation Scholarships

Lakeland, Peekskill, Putnam Valley, and Walter Panas High School Students Receive Awards

The HOPE for Youth Foundation awarded five local high school students with scholarships this year at their recent scholarship awards ceremony held via ZOOM for the first time ever. The scholarships are usually presented in person at an annual luncheon, but because of social distancing guidelines, the annual event could not take place.

Instead, HOPE for Youth arranged for the ZOOM call and for pizzas to be delivered to each recipient’s home at the end of the online presentation—one delivery had to be made to North Carolina. More than 50 board members, parents, scholarship recipients and former scholarship winners participated.

“I am so proud of this year’s scholarship recipients because they all have had their senior year cut short because of the Coronavirus, but they still exude optimism, resiliency and hope for the future. Every single one of these bright and community-minded students reminds me that no matter how bad things seem, there is always a bright side,” said Jim Witt, HOPE for Youth.

Honored for their academic and civic accomplishments were:

Walter Panas High School Senior Amaavi Miriyagalla and Lakeland High School Senior Taylor Allen were awarded HOPE For Youth Scholarships; Putnam Valley High School Senior Sydney Goldberg was presented with the Thomas J. Witt Memorial Scholarship; Peekskill High School Senior Dejuan White was presented with the LaMarr Barnes Scholarship; and Lakeland High School Senior Maria Davino was presented with the Bill Sherry Memorial Scholarship.

HOPE for Youth established the scholarship program in 1998 for graduating seniors who demonstrated outstanding service to school and community. The scholarships are funded from the sales of Witt’s Long Range Weather Calendar and other fundraising efforts conducted by the foundation and its board of directors. To date, the foundation has distributed $4.3 million to children’s charities, including these scholarships.

Some of the 2019 scholarship winners also attended the call, including former Walter Panas High School student Hannah Sophia Soloway, former Lakeland High School student Michael Gajdosik, and former Putnam Valley High School student Gavon Mitchell.

Amaavi Miriyagalla

Walter Panas High School Senior Amaavi Miriyagalla is the Valedictorian of her class, and excels in athletics and music. She is a three season athlete, plays the saxophone and has done research in DNA nanotechnology.  Notwithstanding all of these remarkable attributes, the Hope For Youth Scholarship is focused on service. She has been volunteering since the 8th grade at the Yorktown Rehabilitation and Nursing Center where she helps the seniors wash their laundry, fix their smartphones, and takes them outdoors all in an effort to provide companionship and encouragement for them to recall their fondest memories. Miriyagalla’s service extends to tutoring adults in English as a Second language  and building close relationships with the Hispanic immigrant community. Miriyagalla plans to attend Vassar College. She was awarded the Hope For Youth Scholarship.

Taylor Allen

Lakeland High School Senior Taylor Allen maintains a rigorous academic program including Calculus, AP Biology, AP MacroEconomics, AP English, and Psychology. She is a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society. Her GPA is 95.36. In addition to managing a rigorous schedule, Allen is President of the UNICEF Club. Allen is also a volunteer at NY Presbyterian/Hudson Valley Hospital and at the YMCA camp in Putnam Valley during summers. Taylor’s volunteer work at the hospital and with the children at camp has prepared her well for her goal of becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner. Allen’s grandfather who passed away last year was her role model and she notes his legacy has helped her grow and become independent. Taylor will be attending The University of Buffalo in the honors college in the nursing program. She was awarded the Hope For Youth Scholarship.

Sydney Goldberg

Putnam Valley High School Senior Sydney Goldberg participates in numerous clubs such as SADD, Make-a-Difference and MAGMAH, a group of high school students who volunteer to work with special education students on Sundays to create fun and enjoyable experiences for them. Goldberg spreads joy in whatever she does.  Her peers were sad to miss out on the end of the year activities, so Sydney made up senior posters for every senior in her class highlighting their post high school plans, and anything the student wanted to add.  At a young age, Goldberg was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. The flares ups, hospitalizations, intravenous medications, created physical, emotional and social challenges, but Goldberg didn’t let her Crohn’s Disease to define her. Instead she uses her experience with Crohn’s to deal with any kind of setback. Her GPA is 95.95 and she is planning to attend the University of Buffalo majoring in Chemistry with the goal of a career in dentistry.

Dejaun White

Despite facing hardships and adversity as a young African American male, White will be attending Monroe College to study business management and will play football for the D1 school in the fall. He was active on the Peekskill varsity football team for four consecutive years. He was a member of My Brother’s Keeper – a college prep program for young men. He also was involved with the Interact Club in which he participated in events such as the Special Olympics, blood drives, and helping seniors at a local nursing home. White will pursue his bachelor’s degree and plans to become involved in the auto body industry. He excelled at the BOCES program learning auto body/mechanics. White was presented with the LaMarr Barnes scholarship, created in honor of LaMarr Barnes, a longtime Peekskill resident who tragically died at age 27 in a car accident on Bear Mountain Parkway in 2011. Barnes’ legacy and memory live on through this memorial scholarship created and supported by Nick and Jenet Ferris of Ferris Carpentry.

Maria Davino

Lakeland High School Senior Davino has devoted her school years to working with kids, all the while maintaining a commitment to her academics.  She plans on continuing in her studies at Mt. Saint Mary College where she will pursue a bachelor’s degree in English followed by a master’s degree in Special Education. In addition to being an active member of the Lakeland Pioneers, a sports team that teaches students with special needs sports skills, Davino has been involved with the Yorktown Leo’s, a division of the Lion’s Club.  For the past five years she helped run various activities, including a board game night with students with special needs and a Guiding Eyes for the Blind pizza party.  Davino has been treasurer, secretary, vice-president, and now serves as its president. Davino was presented with he Bill Sherry Memorial Scholarship, named after Bill Sherry who was a 7th Grade English teacher at Copper Beech Middle School for 32 years.

HOPE for Youth Foundation was founded in 1986 by WHUD Weatherman and former educator Jim Witt, who is noted for his annual long-range weather forecast calendars featuring photographs of the Hudson Valley. Witt has formulated a complex system that relies on historic weather patterns in order to predict what the weather will be like years, even decades, ahead. The precision of his forecasts over the past 40 years has made him a successful, charismatic and eerily accurate weather prophet.  Witt is also a former high school science teacher.

Learn more about Hope For Youth Foundation at

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