A League of Their Own
The HIV League Announces Scholarships for Students Living with HIV
by Chael Needle
Whenever I help a student at the college where I teach write a personal statement for a scholarship application and they report back that they were awarded the funds, I am as overjoyed as they are. They need the funds, as many students do, but more than that, perhaps, they need to know that others support their pursuit of education. They need to know that others see their potential to make a contribution to their chosen field. Importantly, these students take that investment and multiply it when they share their expertise to help others, post-degree.
It’s icing on the cake when students receive a scholarship from an organization or association within a community with whom they identify—Caribbean-American, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islander American. That kind of support is part of the reason why The HIV League is determined to make the future brighter and more secure for students living with HIV. It recently launched—and is currently accepting applications for—The HIV League Scholarship.
Two 2017-2018 scholarships, each in the amount of $7,000, will be awarded to full-time students living with HIV enrolled at a college or university. (See the website for full eligibility criteria.) It’s up to the students whether or not they want to make their name public upon winning the scholarship. Deadline: January 31, 2017.
The newly formed nonprofit organization, whose mission it is to “empower the HIV Community through scholarship, wellness, and education,” has been busy all year long raising awareness about and funds for the scholarship—at the Empowering HIV-Positive Youth Cycle Jam at First Wind Cycling in Charlotte, North Carolina, at AIDS Walk New York, at a SoulCycle Charity Ride. But The HIV League has also been nurturing community across serostatuses by offering videos and blogs where people share their stories and strategies about living well with HIV in an empowered way, becoming an HIV-negative ally, long-term survival, destigmatizing HIV, and other issues.
The HIV League’s board members include Jim Bishop, Perry N. Halkitis, Michael T. Marino, J Ashton Lei, and Liz Mallas. Javier Medrano, Sophia Sunwoo, and Dr. Cecilia J. Yoon serve as advisory board members.
A&U had the chance to chat with Daniel Szymczyk, founder and CEO of The HIV League.
Chael Needle: What inspired the HIV League to launch a scholarship program?
Daniel Szymczyk: The HIV League was actually initially created to run The HIV League Scholarship. The idea came up during the brainstorming phases of us as an organization. While I was an Executive Assistant for the founder of another nonprofit, I always took my lunch breaks in Madison Square Park here in New York City. I knew I wanted to transition into work related to HIV, so I was starting to think about what kind of program was needed within the field. During these lunches I would also catch up on the NY Times articles I would save. During this time (summer of 2015), there was a plethora of articles related to student debt, high costs at universities, etc. One day, the thought of “Are there scholarships for students living with HIV?” came to me. I searched around and found a couple, but they all had location-based restrictions tied to them. From then on, I knew that what was needed in the field of HIV work was a national scholarship for students living with HIV.
How do you see the scholarship program aligning with your organization’s mission?
The HIV League’s mission is to empower the HIV Community through scholarship, wellness, and education. We believe that the HIV Community can truly benefit from The HIV League Scholarship and I know the students who are awarded a scholarship will feel driven to act on their studies through this scholarship. I’m living with HIV myself, and the first year of being HIV-positive was actually my senior year of college. The emotional impact I had was quite significant and everyone whom I have spoken with about their experiences as a student living with HIV experienced similar feelings as well. What I believe The HIV League and its scholarship program represents is the HIV Community supporting and empowering these students living with HIV and telling them that through their studies and education, they can make a huge impact in the world.
I imagine you would like to expand the scholarship program, year after year?
You bet we would! The HIV League just celebrated its one-year anniversary this past World AIDS Day, which was also the day we announced that we have two $7,000 scholarships for students living with HIV to apply for. I feel like that’s quite a huge accomplishment in just one year, but we are definitely not stopping there. We have learned so much in our fundraising efforts this past year and we’re really seeing the HIV Community responding to this program in a positive way. We are working to having more scholarships available for students living with HIV after every year we exist as a nonprofit, and we hope you join us in our efforts!
If you would like to donate to The HIV League Scholarship, log on to: http://bit.ly/2hoUB45.
To submit a scholarship application or learn more about The HIV League, visit: www.hivleague.org.
Chael Needle is Managing Editor of A&U. Follow him on Twitter @ChaelNeedle.