1st Annual Isabella Santos Scholarship Winner

We are thrilled to announce our 1st Annual Isabella Santos Scholarship Winner, Leah Shelton.  Leah was one of many who submitted an application for a $1,000 community service scholarship.  Leah is graduating from Marvin Ridge High School and will be attending Vanderbilt University in the fall.  It’s pretty amazing to think that Leah was in 8th grade when Isabella passed away… and look how Isabella’s legacy has carried on.

Isabella Santos Scholarship Application, Leah Shelton

Karen Murphy (ISF Event & Volunteer Director) and Leah Shelton

Hand in hand, Destinee and I step out of the shiny black limousine. The repeated click of a camera signifies that her mother follows close behind, eager to capture Destinee’s rare display of affection. All eyes are on us as we walk the red carpet, and although Destinee looks stunning in her floral dress that I helped her choose several weeks prior, she keeps her head down. I speak some words of encouragement, not expecting a reply from my nonverbal honoree. But then, something so unexpected happens that I pause for a minute: she squeezes my hand. Small moments like these remind me why I engage in community service. It is so easy to forget the real reason for volunteering when so many are caught up in graduation requirements, college applications, and resume-building. I volunteer because I have abundant joy that cannot be contained to me alone. I want others to share in this joy, and I struggle knowing that there are so many people in the world that do not have enough reasons to be happy. Being a Youth Mentor for the Sandbox, an organization that locks arms with families of children with cancer or another life-altering illness, provided me the perfect opportunity to share my positive energy. AlthoughDestinee’s illness is incurable, helping her to forget about her troubles, even if just for one night during the Evening of Believing Prom, was one small way that I could help bring a little more light into the world. To most people in the “Marvin Bubble,” issues like cancer seem so far removed from reality that they are often treated as irrelevant. I am an optimist, downright Pollyanna at times, and I often fall victim to the superficial sense of security and insistently sanguine perspective that exists in our little bubble. However, volunteerism helps to keep me grounded, humble, and connected to issues like cancer that are of such global significance. My purpose in aiding an organization that works to combat cancer is not to minimize my positive attitude, but rather to help others in a way that spreads this positivity.

  • Varsity Dance Team (grades 9-12)
  • Student Council (grades 9-12): Sophomore Class Vice President, Junior Class President
  • Spanish National Honor Society (grades 10-12): Vice President
  • National Honor Society (grades 11-12)
  • Junior Art League of Waxhaw (grades 9-12): Create community art pieces, volunteer at community art events, and learn about new artistic media and techniques from local artists.
  • Youth Mentor for the Sandbox (grades 11-12): Support families of children with cancer or another life-altering illness. Work to meet a fundraising goal of $500, represent the Sandbox in community events, and serve as an advocate for honoree as they prepare and participate in An Evening of Believing Prom.
  • Domestic Violence Advocacy (grades 11-12): Initiated a campaign to spread awareness for teen dating violence at Marvin Ridge. Coordinated with Turning Point to put on a presentation for ninth grade health classes. Volunteer at Second Chance Boutique. Working to continue campaign this May.
  • Assistant Coach for Middle School Dance Team (grade 12)
  • Assistant Dance Teacher at the Dance District of NC (grade 12)
  • Isabella Santos 5K Run for Kid’s Cancer (grades 7-12)
  • Progressive Movement Arts Centre Senior Company Team (grades 9-10)
  • The Dance District of NC (grades 11-12)
  • Queen City Audio, Video and Appliances Community Heroes Award (grade 12)
  • Varsity Dance Team Heart of a Maverick Award (grade 12)
  • Universal Dance Association All-American Dancer (grades 11-12)
  • 2017 National Merit Commendation
  • Outstanding Achievement Award for IB Spanish (grade 11)
  • Varsity Dance Team Most Improved Award (grade 9)
  • Academic Excellence Award (grades 9-12)

I plan to attend Vanderbilt University in the fall, and I expect to major in either chemistry or biochemistry. While I am still unsure where my academic journey will lead me in life, I know that I want to use the knowledge I gain to make the world a better place. Whether that is by discovering a cure for cancer or merely making a patient smile, I hope to find ways to spread as much joy as possible.  I have been extensively involved with a variety of community service organizations throughout middle and high school, and I plan to continue this involvement as I transition to college and adulthood. Teen dating violence is one cause that is particularly important to me, and I have spent the last several years spreading awareness and volunteering for a domestic abuse advocacy organization. As I begin a new chapter of my life next year, I hope to continue to empower young people to have healthier relationships. There is no way to “solve” domestic violence; however, by educating people about the warning signs, the prevalence and severity of this issue can be drastically reduced. In college, where many sexual assault cases go completely unnoticed, I hope to be the voice of those who are too afraid to speak, advocating for everyone’s fundamental right to love and respect. The best way to encourage others to have a positive impact on their community is to lead by example. Positivity is contagious, and if I continue to show those around me that service is a fun and rewarding experience that fosters inclusion, expands one’s global view, and provides an opportunity to apply academic learning to genuine human needs, I believe that they will be inspired to do the same.

The most critical way by which ISF can inspire teens to make Isabella’s dream a lifelong passion is to encourage them to create personal connections with cancer patients. I remember cheering on Isabella while volunteering at the Isabella Santos 5K with the Marvin Ridge Dance Team. She had just dyed her hair red so she could look like Ariel, her favorite princess (and mine!) Isabella was not able to attend the subsequent races, but the stories I heard of the profound effect she had on those around her impassioned me to promote this worthy cause. One of the most eye-opening experiences of my teenage years was serving as a youth mentor for the Sandbox. Earning the opportunity to form such a strong relationship with a child battling a chronic illness increased my awareness about those who face adversity every day, and this motivated me to continue to make a difference. In this way, these children became more than just statistics or sob stories in a magazine. They became real people, inspiring characters, who astound me every day with their incredible strength. ISF should create opportunities for youth to hear personal stories and interact directly with kids and families that are impacted by cancer. The presence of the Santos family in the Marvin Ridge community has always kept this cause in the forefront of my mind, so I believe that others will feel the same way if they can have a similar experience. Teens are always looking for opportunities to volunteer that are accessible and fit into their busy lives, therefore ISF should look for ways to tie service and fundraising into things that teens are already doing like sports teams and clubs.

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