Lifting Up Westchester Announces Winners from Student Essay Contest Exploring the Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

Lifting Up Westchester, a non-profit agency committed to helping individuals restore their independence, announced the winners of their fourth annual student essay contest. Open to all Westchester students in the 7th to 12th grades, students were invited to explore the changes and challenges they have experienced during the pandemic and reflect how those experiences might be the same or different for individuals who are homeless or low-income.

The essay contest was established in 2017 in memory of Beth Massey Rubens, a 40-year resident of Scarsdale and a lifelong teacher, tutor, and mentor who had a love for language arts.

Lifting Up Westchester Announces Student Essay Contest Explores Lessons Learned from Pandemic

Students were asked to reflect on how the pandemic impacted them personally and what it has exposed about economic and social inequities in the U.S.  What did they learn about the importance of connection? Where have they seen resilience or adaptability during this crisis? What values are more important or less important to them today than a year ago? What can be done to change inequities in social justice the pandemic exposed?  Students related their essays back to Lifting Up Westchester’s response to the pandemic and the agency’s core mission.

“This year’s essay contest topic clearly struck a chord,” said Anahaita Kotval, CEO of Lifting Up Westchester. “We received essays from 441 students representing 76 middle and high schools throughout Westchester.  Many of the students shared deeply personal stories about how the pandemic had affected them, their families, their friends, and their community.  Students wrote about disappointment, loss, loneliness, and social inequality.  But they also expressed a sense of renewed hope and how the lessons they learned could be a powerful force for all of us to move towards a better future.”  A panel of sixty-one judges reviewed the essays to select the ultimate winners.

Students will be honored during a May 2nd Awards Ceremony conducted over Zoom.  Mayor Mike Spano of Yonkers will present awards to winning student. Eileen Gallagher, chair of the English Department at Keio Academy of New York, will join to present awards to ESL students.

First, second and third place and honorable mention cash prizes were awarded in three grade groups:  7th and 8th graders, 9th and 10th graders and 11th and 12th graders.   A category was added this year for students who speak English as a second language.

Winners for the 2021 Student Essay Contest include:

7 & 8 Grade

First Place:                         Sofia Mejia, School 5 in Yonkers
Second Place:                    Zoya Nabeel, Seven Bridges Middle School in Chappaqua
Third Place (tie):              Moiko Martin, Ardsley Middle School
Third Place (tie):              Sophie Brennan, Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont
Honorable Mention:       Fakhri Salim, Valhalla Middle School
Honorable Mention:       Sophia Suiu, Fox Lane Middle School in Bedford

9 & 10 Grade

First Place:                        Janira Martinez, Peekskill High School
Second Place:                   Kristen Luther, Woodlands High School
Third Place:                      Joseph Berger, Briarcliff Manor
Honorable Mention:       Shweta Nadagouda, Harrison High School

11 & 12 Grade

First Place:                        Alyssa Lee, Yonkers Middle/High School
Second Place:                   Drew Burnham, Rye High School
Third Place:                      Janette Martiena, The Ursuline School in New Rochelle
Honorable Mention:       Eli Makaron, Briarcliff Manor


First Place:                       Yoshiaki Shimizu, Keio Academy of New York in Purchase
Second Place:                  Haruka Tsutsumi, Keio Academy of New York in Purchase
Third Place:                     Yoshihisa Ono, Keio Academy of New York in Purchase
Honorable Mention:      Eita Yamazumi, Keio Academy of New York in Purchase

For more information about Lifting Up Westchester, visit, send us an email at or connect with us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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