OPALGA 4th of July parade | Photo provided

For the sixth year, the Oak Park Area Gay & Lesbian Association (OPALGA) is offering scholarships to youth in the community for continuing education for graduating high school students, or for continuing college or trade school students. 

Each year, OPALGA awards four to five scholarships of $2,000 each to students who are LGBTQ, the children of LGBTQ parents or allies of the LGBTQ community. Among the traits OPALGA looks for in applicants are service, activism and an understanding of the LGBTQ community. Applicants have to have grown up in or lived at least one year in Oak Park or within a 10-mile radius of the village.

This year’s application period recently close, and OPALGA will announce the winners later this summer. Mike Rosanova, OPALGA member, knows that the scholarships can make a real difference. “Two thousand dollars means a lot to students in the days of student loans. Especially for kids attending junior college. As a semi-retired professor at Triton, I know what a big impact that money can have. It can be the difference between having a second and third part-time job.”

Rosanova says the scholarships acknowledge the difficulty facing youth today, noting how difficult it can be for youth to make the decision to join the LGBTQ community. “There are special challenges, and there’s a need for support for kids who are growing up LGBTQ. They might be in a community in which there’s no fit. Sensitivity and support are necessary.”

Using pseudonyms to protect their privacy, Rosanova describes previous years’ awardees. Brad didn’t realize that being gay would be controversial until he was in junior high in Oak Park. While attending OPRF high school, he found his voice and support system through the school’s Gay Straight Alliance and worked to support the rights of others through the GSA and ACLU and volunteered to protect animal rights as well.

Divonia was an accomplished athlete who suffered severe depression when she came out while attending a Catholic junior high school. After a suicide attempt, she too found her inner strength in high school and was a leader in her school while participating in athletics and theater. Joy is the adopted child of lesbian parents and acted as an advocate for her mothers as well as her autistic brother and plans to study science in college because she believes the LGBTQ community needs the support of knowledgeable allies.

Rosanova reflects that these past award winners embody what the scholarship is all about. “One of the points of the scholarship is to help people who will open up the future for the LGBTQ community, whether they are LGBTQ themselves or allies.”

Interest in the scholarships continues to grow, with approximately 35 applicants this year. While the application period has closed for 2018, more information can be found at OPALGA’s website: www.opalga.org/scholarshipprogram

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