Erika Gonzalez, 18, has been working at the Charlestown retirement communtiy in Catonsville for nearly two years, coming in after school and on weekends to wait tables and serve as a hostess in the Atrium dining room.
She started working there because it was close to her Catonsville home, and it gave her a chance to "save up some money to help my parents out," she said.
Now, like 45 other teens who work at Charlestown and recently graduated from high school, Gonzalez is beginning her college career with a welcome financial boost of $1,200 per year. The money is a gift from the residents who have gotten to know Gonzalez and her fellow co-workers over the years.
The scholarships, which this year total nearly $225,000, have been offered for about 25 years, said Tammy Collier, philanthropy coordinator for Charlestown, an Erickson Living community that has about 2,300 residents divided among independent living apartments, assisted living and a care center.
To qualify, the students must work at Charlestown at least two years and 1,000 hours, she said. Most of the high school students who work there are employed in the dining rooms, she said, though a few are receptionists and security guards.
Each year, from March through June, a campaign urges residents to contribute to the fund, Collier said. Letters are sent out informing residents of the scholarship and how many students will benefit, and bins are set out to collect envelopes, she said.
"The residents here love their staff and want them to succeed," Collier said.
The awards are presented at a graduation ceremony with speeches, a movie about the young employees, and caps and gowns for the recent high school graduates. This year, the ceremony was June 27, and the total amount awarded was $224,750.
Another recipient is Jasmin Charles, 18, who has been working at Charlestown since her sophomore year at the Western School of Technology and Environmental Science.
She's scheduled to work three days a week, but "I often come in to pick up shifts for people, for extra money," said Charles, who lives in Pikesville and is heading to Hampton University in Virginia, where she will major in broadcast journalism. The scholarship ceremony was emotional, she said. "They had a video of us that was filmed all over. It showed our gradual transformation and our growth over the years."
All qualifying Charlestown workers receive scholarships of $1,200 per academic year. There are also a few additional scholarships, including the Charlestown Martha Yeager Endowed Scholarship, named for a current resident, which gives an additional $750 a year, based on academic merit and financial merit, said Myron H. Goldberg, who moved to Charlestown from Connecticut about two years ago with his wife, Norma.
Goldberg, who was chair and professor of graduate and undergraduate programs in information systems at Pace University, and his wife, who taught in New York City public schools, serve on the committee that chooses the recipients of the additional scholarship. Students submit their transcripts, financial aid reports, a typed essay, proof of college acceptance, and a recommendation from their Charlestown supervisor. This year, for the first time, they were also interviewed.
Out of 10 students interviewed for the Yeager scholarship, the winner was Lataijah Crawford, who graduated from Western and is going to the University of Delaware.
"I'm a retired college professor, and I like the kids very much," said Goldberg. "It was one of the charms of coming to Charlestown. From the first moment we moved here, I got to know many of the kids."
Gonzalez, who graduated in June from the Institute of Notre Dame in Baltimore, will attend LaSalle University in Philadelphia, where she is considering a double-major in nursing and psychology. She plans to work at Charlestown until she leaves for college and said she's gotten to know some of the residents quite well. "They always like talking to you," she said.
She plans to keep in touch with one resident in particular, a fellow Institute of Notre Dame graduate, she said. "I was wearing my school ring, and she saw it when I was waiting on her table," said Gonzalez.
This year's recipients are: Jasmin Charles; Cortney Churchill; Quanetta Cox; Lataijah Crawford; Alicia English; Selena Espinal; Kaylee Garry; Erika Gonzalez; Julie Homans; Ryan Horodyski; Karen Huang; Rasheda Hudson; Gregory Hurst; Dwayne Johnson; Anai Johnson; Ingrida Kindred; Natalie Konig; Kyara Lee; Kaylin Lindy; Temera Little; Jennifer Manor; Darryl McCallum; Ashlyn McCoy; Brittany McGregor; Tanae Melvin; Romique Mims; Kiersten Miranda; Maggie Murray; Alicyn Nitsch; Chiamaka Nnah; Feyisayo Omotoso; Lucia Onuigbo; Eloni Porcher; Ashia Ryan; Nicole Sherman; Samantha Speight; Halle Stanley; Kendra Stewart; Bria Stewart; Danaisha Taylor; Kadeem Turnbull; Christopher Varnauskas; Teena Vithayathil; Brianna Williams; and Jasmine Wise.