Each year, the Point Foundation awards a select few of LGBT students across the country with scholarships in recognition of their academic merit, financial need, leadership skills and community involvement.
Point, which prides itself in investing their resources in the future generations of social justice leaders, announced its 2008 scholar class last month, with two of the 27 students attending schools in Chicago.
Caroline Cox-Orrell and Kevin Ferenchak, influenced by their life experiences, both serve in leadership positions within LGBT organizations in their schools and local communities. What makes Cox-Orrell and Ferenchak's motivations unique, however, are their polar-opposite upbringings.
Before 19-year-old Cox-Orrell co-founded the Gay Straight Alliance Youth Networking Series in Boston, before she served on the Boston Board of Directors for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network or volunteered her time at Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere lobbing with queer rights organizations, she wrote an article for Time magazine.
At the young age of 16, Cox-Orrell wrote that although she was growing up in a socially progressive Boston suburb, with a lesbian-parented family of activists, she felt confined to a lower social standing and hurt by conservative leaders that felt so strongly against gay marriage rights.
She said, growing up, she felt an extraordinary amount of pressure to have good grades, be emotionally well-adjusted and not have any sort of problems that might be associated with having queer parents.
'Understanding marginalization and exclusion happening [ even ] in a socially progressive bubble really motivated me to make a difference for kids with queer families,' Cox-Orrell said. 'As I started becoming involved in social activism and social justice on behalf of my own family I really became more aware of the marginalization and oppression of all different groups of people.'
Cox-Orrell, who has been actively involved in GSA ( gay-straight alliance ) networks since high school, hopes to pursue a degree that intersects her interest with healthcare and medicine as well as social justice at the University of Chicago.
'One of the things I see as a very powerful tool of social justice is empowering communities to make change,' Cox-Orrell said. 'Point provides me with the ability to be an activist and a college student.'
Kevin Ferenchak, on the other hand, grew up in a devoutly religious, conservative household that saw homosexuality as an unforgivable sin. Growing up, Ferenchak said the only gay people he knew about were the ones that died of AIDS.
At the age of 12, Ferenchak was a victim of a traumatizing homophobic attack that left him hospitalized for a week.
'What that reinforced, at that point of my life, was that being gay was not an option,' He said. 'Fortunately for the years that had followed … I had a lot of help from really good friends.'
At the age of 17, Ferenchak left home to live with a family he babysat for in Orange County, Calif. He said he was able to finish grade school early and take the SATs and ACTs in advance, before applying for Loyola University of Chicago, where he is currently attending with a Presidential Scholarship.
Ferenchak, 20, is currently a HIV/STD test counselor at the Howard Brown Broadway Youth Center and takes part in their mentor program. At Loyola, he takes on active leadership roles in the university's GLBT Week, Hate Crime Awareness Month and Day of Silence. He has also helped co-found a free ACT prep course for an inner-city high school, taught by fellow Loyola students.
'What has committed me to social justice has been my own experiences with [ a lack of ] social justice,' Ferenchak said. 'I feel like my biggest motivation is my own personal experiences.'
Ferenchak, who suffered from a collapsed lung at 17, said he has relied heavily on emergency care over the years, inspiring him to enter the medical field. While majoring in biology with minors in bioethics and anthropology, Ferenchak hopes to keep volunteering at Howard Brown, in the future, as a practicing MD.
'I am very lucky to be alive; in life I have been given a second and third chance,' Ferenchak said. 'I think it's great to be able to give back to the people that have helped you.'
While offering students financial support with an average award of $13,200, Point has offered leadership training and mentoring to its current 130 scholars in their respective field of study since its foundation in 2001.
'I'm so excited to be a part of the Point Foundation family,' Cox-Orrell said. 'It's an opportunity to be a part of a really dynamic, powerful and supportive community of scholars, students and trustees.'