Ask anyone who knows Mater Dei Prep senior Taralynn Vecchio of Keyport and they’ll tell you: “accomplished” is an understatement when describing her. A stellar student, field hockey player, outstanding singer and advocate for those with special needs, she can now add “Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation semi-finalist” to her list of achievements.
Taralynn learned of the scholarship— which provides $10,000-$20,000 college scholarships to 250 high school seniors each year—from a family friend in late fall and decided it couldn’t hurt to apply. Applications normally due by October 31st were accepted through November 9th, thanks to Superstorm Sandy. Taralynn used the time off from school because of the storm to volunteer at a local shelter and complete her application. According to their website, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation mission is to “provide scholarship programs and alumni enrichment opportunities in support of exceptional peoples' thirst for knowledge and their desire to make a difference in the world.”
Taralynn’s initial application consisted of basic information: school activities, community activities, and academic and employment information. In mid-December, Coca-Cola notified Taralynn that she was one of approximately 2,200 semi-finalists from across the country. By mid-January Taralynn had submitted her secondary application which included essays, official transcripts, and two letters of recommendation. If chosen as a finalist, she will fly to Atlanta for a series of interviews with “outstanding leaders in business, government, education and the arts,” as stated on the foundation’s website.
For one of the essays, Taralynn was asked to write about some activity, program or event she started. The choice was not easy as she has started two programs equally beneficial to the local community: the Contender Team and Fun Day. The Contender Team is a program Taralynn created two years ago in conjunction with the AYF (American Youth Football) in Keyport. Having been a cheerleader for youth football her whole childhood and now a growing advocate for children with special needs, Taralynn melded the two into a cheerleading team for children with disabilities. While only four girls cheered last year, Taralynn hopes to increase awareness for next year and encourage more children to join the team and learn the joy of cheering.
Two years ago Taralynn also created Fun Day, a day filled with just that for disabled children from Monmouth County. The event is held in Memorial Hall on the campus of Saint Mary Parish schools. Last year over 250 children and faculty from Sister Georgine School in Ewing, NJ and the Harbor School in Eatontown participated. They were treated to bounce houses, cotton candy and sno-cone machines, a DJ, face painting, pizza and commemorative t-shirts. Taralynn canvased the local community, receiving discounts on services and over $2,000 in sponsorships for this worthy cause.
At this point, Taralynn is unsure of the direction her higher education will take, but she’s sure of one thing: it will include working with people with special needs in some way, whether from a pre-med platform or through non-profit work.
Taralynn is not new to winning scholarships either. Last year she received the Frank Outwater Scholarship at Mater Dei Prep, providing her with full tuition for her senior year. Winning the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation scholarship would, in Taralynn’s words, “mean so much to me, but would mean even more for my family. They’ve sacrificed for me and to finish college with no or minimal student loans would really mean I could give something back to them.” Taralynn credits her family with forming her strong moral center and making her the person she is today.