Youth scholarship winner beats the odds (video)
The odds have been stacked against Zarina Sementelli since the day she was born.
But she never quit.
Sementelli is a resident of The Salvation Army Booth Brown House youth housing facility in St. Paul (pictured). She grew up in the Twin Cities living in poverty. Her mother never worked and her father was never around. She withstood abuse, neglect, and homelessness.
Miraculously, she overcame those obstacles. And now she has received a scholarship that celebrates all of her accomplishments.
Last week, Sementelli was awarded a $5,000 “Beat the Odds®” scholarship from Children’s Defense Fund–Minnesota. The annual scholarship honors five outstanding college-bound high school students who have lived through difficult life circumstances but have still managed to thrive.
“My circumstances don’t define who I am – they reveal who I’ve chosen to be,” said Sementelli, recalling the quote she chose for her senior photo in the yearbook at Como Park High School in St. Paul. “You have the power to change your circumstances. That’s something that is so powerful. That’s something that has kept me going.”
Sementelli is an excellent student and enjoys many extracurricular activities. She plays basketball, is a member of her school’s debate team, and is a mentor to young girls.
She mentors “black girls who are becoming women,” Sementelli said. “The purpose of the group is to educate them, uplift them, and give them a sense of sisterhood.”
She is planning to use her scholarship toward attending college in Atlanta, Ga. She wants to pursue a career in criminal justice and be a voice for forgotten children.
Sementelli moved into Booth Brown House after her mother abandoned her. She is one of 25 youth ages 18 – 24 enrolled in the facility’s Permanent Supportive Housing program, which provides long-term housing and support from Salvation Army caseworkers. Booth Brown House also includes a 16-bed emergency shelter for youth ages 18–21.
Sementelli’s caseworker at Booth Brown House, Natalie Bogdan, could not be more proud of her.
“Zarina is a passionate and focused individual who has truly ‘beat the odds,’” Bogdan said. “When you have a conversation with Zarina, it’s impossible not to take notice of her grace and intelligence. I have high hopes that Zarina will accomplish all the goals that she has set forth for herself and make an impact.”
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"The Things They Carry" is a four-part series about homeless youth in the Twin Cities, and how The Salvation Army is helping them. Here's Martin's story...