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Meet the AaronStrong Foundation

 2021 Perseverance Scholarship Winners!


These individuals have overcome adversity and are true representations of what it means to have GRIT and to use a growth mindset.  We wish them success with their post-secondary plans and are confident that they have what it takes to be successful! 

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Alexandria Griffin

East Ridge High School

Perseverance Scholarship Winner D.G. 202

Dante' George

South Lake High School

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Faith Mayfield

Lake Minneola High School

Ronald Hopper David Lee Memorial Scholar

Ronald Hopper

David Lee Memorial Scholarship

Eustis High School

2019 Scholarship Recipients!


Jordan Threlfall

East Ridge High School


Gretchen Faraci

South Lake High School


Samil Jimenez

Lake Minneola High School

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Matthew Leary

David Lee Memorial Scholarship

Eustis High School

2019 Scholarship Recipients!

Scholarship Savannah Mitchell Lake Minne

Savannah Mitchell

Lake Minneola High School

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Katie Stedelin

Lake Minneola High School

Scholarship Ezekiel Faulknor South Lake.

Eziekiel Faulknor

South Lake High School

Scholarship Laurieanne Shaffer Tavares H

Laurieanne Shaffer

Tavares High School

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Tanner Romano

Eustis High School

David Lee Memorial Scholarship

2018 Scholarship Recipients!

Valeria Espinosa

East Ridge High School

Sydney Countryman

Lake Minneola High School

Amanda Berecz

Lake Sumter State College


Kelsey Boyd

Tavares High School

2017 Scholarship Recipients

Sarah Nolan

East Ridge High School

Samuel Gregory

Lake Minneola High School

Brianna Rodriguez Perez

South Lake High School

Renata Gomes Martins

Lake Sumter State College


2016 Scholarship Recipients

Suzanne Chaar

East Ridge High School


Shaun Pittman

Lake Minneola High School

Jose Perez

South Lake  High School

Not Pictured


Read about some past scholarship winners 

Two of our past winners share their personal GRIT stories and reflect on life after winning the scholarship.


Suzanne Chaar won the scholarship in 2016 from East Ridge High School and is now studying in her third year at UCF in the Pre-med program.

When she started her freshman year in February of 2013, she was processing through the trauma and grief of leaving her war-torn home country of Syria with only a 12-hour notice. She was in culture shock and didn't know anybody. She was the only one at first wearing a head covering for her Muslim faith and struggled with the sudden flood of a new language, English.

Suzanne leaned heavily on her family during this lonely time, especially her two older brothers who spoke English and helped her in school. She also had great English teachers who used Google translate to help her through the first two years. In the summer she met friends from Lebanon who wanted to practice Arabic, while Suzanne wanted to practice English. They spoke a lot back and forth, and became some of her first friends.

Starting her junior year, she stopped taking ESL and started taking AP classes. That's when she started to make friends, as well as dream about the future. She wanted to go to college, especially UCF.

When she received the award, a huge weight fell off her shoulders because she realized she could attend college. She didn’t touch her scholarship money except for summer classes so that she could quickly finish her degree. It was such a relief not to worry about money. She thought, “Okay, I can go to college now.”

The money she got from the scholarship combined with others to pay for her two years at Lake Sumter where she earned an Associate’s degree before moving on to UCF.

Looking back at how much she has overcome encourages her to keep going. She has learned from every mistake she made and has chosen to accept the challenges instead of running from them. She has learned what it means to be self-aware and know her limits. Since she is studying pre-med, she can very easily be overwhelmed by the workload. Now she knows to take mental breaks, enjoy a day off to de-stress and take care of her health.

Her advice to those struggling would be, “The numbers (GPA, grades, etc. ) don’t define who you are.” She had to take the English exam ten times in four years to be able to pass. She barely passed the ACT reading section. But she has learned to work hard toward the grade and then let her best be enough. 

She advises, “Take life one step at a time, not four steps ahead. Focus on what you have right now.”  Click HERE to see what Suzanne is up to today! 

Sydney Countryman won the scholarship in 2018 from Lake Minneola High School.


When Sydney found out about the essay contest to win a scholarship, it gave her hope that there was a silver lining to the struggles that she had in high school. She knew it was a good chance to share her experience to encourage others.

Sydney suffers from Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), a Neurological disorder that causes the nerve signals to fire pain constantly. Many days she was wracked with pain, in and out of the hospital, and even used a wheelchair. She wrote her essay about dealing with an illness while working hard to stay consistent with school, winning Bright Futures Scholarship and getting into FSU.

Writing the essay was a bit of a challenge. Because it was personal, she didn’t enjoy delving into the details. It was hard, a lot of tears were shed during the process. It took time to formulate the thoughts and feelings, and she invited her mom into the room with her as she wrote. Sydney pushed through because she wanted to prove to herself she could do it, and push back against the naysayers who doubted her worth.

Getting the scholarship was very overwhelming for Sydney and when she got on stage, she was wrapped up in her best friend’s hug. He said, "I told you so."

She used the scholarship to pay for five different textbooks, online resources, and classroom materials.

Sydney keeps her nerve disorder in check by doing a treatment program involving intensive physical and occupational therapy. She is remission, but she has to keep moving and pushing herself through the pain. She goes to the gym, eats healthy and has become a self-care “expert.”

She has taken the GRIT mindset with her to college at FSU. She studies a lot, doesn’t settle for B’s because she knows she can do better. She works on campus with a non-profit called Camp Kesem that helps kids who are struggling with parents diagnosed with cancer. The circumstances are unpleasant, but the bond is magical. She knows what it is like to be a scared little girl, as she was a camper herself.  Sydney is now repaying the favor and has gone out of her way to get people to send money by hosting a fundraiser.

Her best advice for those struggling is that "The truest strength you are ever going to find is within yourself." She encourages them to keep breathing. As much as you have friends and family to support you, tell yourself you are going to make it through, you can do it. “I am weak, I hurt, but I can do this.”

She wants to encourage others that even though things are hard, life isn’t about the bad stuff that happens. It helps you appreciate the good stuff. She has learned not to focus on the big things, but the small things like when your friend brings surprise food, class gets canceled unexpectedly, Krispy Kreme donuts, laughs with your best friend.


Lastly, here is some encouragement from Jose A. Perez, 2016 winner from South Lake High School.

“Like a child learning how to walk, you will fall. It will be a guarantee. You will make mistakes, that is fine. But the child will crawl all his life, never being able to explore, if he decides to give up because of some bumps and bruises. Don’t give up! Though it may be difficult from time to time, focus on what you are good at. Seek help! Be confident in yourself and humble at the same time. Take life one stage at a time and make it through high school, ten years later after high school and college, you will be very proud and happy that you never gave up. Grace and Peace!”

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