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Posted November 25 2018

By: Ashley Jankowski

SOMERSET, NJ - Education. Excellence. Community.

These are the three words that constitute the mission of the Warrior For Life Scholarship Foundation, and also the three words that could be used to describe the atmosphere of the 2nd Annual Warrior For Life Gala, which was held at the Imperia on Friday.

The Gala, which serves as the biggest annual fundraising opportunity for the foundation, hosted almost two hundred attendees. At tables adorned with blue and gold centerpieces, distant generations of Franklin Township teachers, administrators, coaches, students and community members sat side by side, making the night a celebration of Franklin’s history, present, and future.

“We wanted to create a scholarship foundation that represented and supports students that we once were in Franklin Township,” co-founder Nick Solomon said of Warrior For Life, which was created in 2016.

The night kicked off as guests reconnected with old friends and made some new ones while enjoying the live musical performance of the Renaissance Jazz Band and laughing to the comedic expertise of Mistress of Ceremonies Erin Jackson. Guests participated in 50/50 raffle and a silent auction with prizes including NFL GameDay Experience tickets, signed NFL memorabilia, canvas photos of Franklin’s most recognizable landmarks, and even a Cancun vacation getaway.

Student Scholarship Awards Surpass 2017 Goals

Eleven Franklin High School seniors were awarded a total of $11,000 in scholarship money, up from the 9 scholarship awards amounting to $10,000 distributed last year. The 2018 recipients were chosen out of a competitive pool of forty-two applicants followed by a rather professional interview process.

“We are foundation understands that there are so many people that helped us along the way and now it's time for us to carry that baton,” Nick Solomon, co-founder of the foundation, said. “As you look around the room this evening, you see Franklin, you see people that laid the foundation of strong roots, and you see people who are currently flourishing because of those strong roots and you also see young people – that’s the reason why we're here today- who have exemplified the potential to carry that baton.”

Flagship Scholarships

Malcolm & Barbara Bernard Historically Black College/University Scholarship: Kamari Kelton

William Westfield Legacy Scholarship: Jeriah McCray

Myra Mitchell Financial Need/Personal Tragedy Scholarship: Kimani Thomas

Carl & Theresa Wade Academic Excellence Scholarship: Jada Bethea

Book Scholarships

Len Rivers Scholarship: Jahnavi Bavuluri

Sheryl Rosner Scholarship(s): Sneh Patel & Tiana Jackson

Dennis Harris Scholarship: Matthew Xi

Alexander Brian Tatum Scholarship: Omar Khasawneh & Asante Harris

Franklin Township Supervisor and Administrators Association Scholarship: Kishan Patel

Throughout the evening, these eleven students verbalized their commitment to stepping up to challenges, bringing up those around them, and keeping an open mind towards new experiences.

“What I think it means to be a Warrior is just being able to go above and beyond all the time,” said Sneh Patel, a recipient of the Sheyrl Lynn Rosenbaum Encouraging Achievement Book Scholarship Award. “Whether that be at school, outside of school, or in sports, we all just have to go above and beyond.”

The scholarship recipients - each of whom exemplified excellence in their academic careers, their extracurricular activities, and their commitment to their community - spoke of the value of hard work while expressing humility and grace.

“Being a Warrior For Life is about helping the community that you were once in, and helping the people who once helped you,” Matthew Xi, Dennis Harris Scholarship recipient, said. “It’s basically just giving back.”

Tiana Joy Jackson, the second recipient of the Sheyrl Lynn Rosenbaum Encouraging Achievement Book Scholarship Award, explained that she works hard to learn everyone’s name at Franklin High School – from the top administrators and teachers to security guards and lunch ladies – to “make sure that everyone on [her] journey is appreciated”.

Notably, these scholarship recipients often cited the diversity of Franklin as a major factor to their success, and recognized its great value in their future beyond Franklin.

“Being a Warrior For Life, for me, means taking the diversity that I’ve experienced in Franklin and with that same mindset, exploring the outer world and other and accepting them and how they react,” said Kishan Patel, recipient of the Franklin Township Supervisors and Administrators Scholarship Award.

Both Xi and Jackson agreed, adding that their favorite part of Franklin High School was the diversity.

“I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having been exposed to this many cultures,” Xi said.

“I've met so many people from different walks of life, so many different backgrounds and so many different cultures,” Jackson said. “It’s amazing to be able to talk and connect to them, to get along without fighting, without any problems.”

Three Influential Franklin Township Community Members Honored

The 2018 Legacy Scholarship Award, which is awarded to students who establish a legacy through significant contributions to the community, was named after William Westfield, who was also honored at the event.

“Our Legacy Scholarship is a Scholarship that rotates every year, and we want to make sure we continue to pay homage to those that played important role in our lives and in our community,” Nick Solomon said.

Westfield began teaching at Franklin Township Schools in 1967, and continued on to become a principal of Franklin High School, and later the Superintendent. Beyond educating students, Westfield spent his career educating teachers as well, and often spent Saturdays in True Colors, Diversity and Inclusion, and Scholarship Fund Raising training sessions. He built close relationships with the religious communities of Franklin, in addition to the Franklin Police Department, the Somerset Community Action Program, and other charities and organizations throughout the community.

Westfield sincerely thanked the foundation for the honor, and shared his educational philosophy: “Here we ensure success, not validate failure, through respect, trust and appreciation of all students, staff and parents.”

Following the distribution of scholarship awards, the Warrior For Life Award was then given to the 2018 recipients, Bill Grippo and Nancy LaCorte.

“We're committed to celebrating the excellence of our community through education and legacy,” Daryn Plummer, co-founder of the foundation, said. “And these next two people who are recipients about Warrior For Life Award have done that for their entire career.”

Plummer went on to describe the rich, selfless career of Grippo, which has included the fundraising of hundreds of thousands of dollars for dozens of local community projects and providing solid educational foundations and resources to a countless number of young Franklin Township students.

Grippo, who is retiring after forty-two years at the conclusion of this school year, considered the evening to be “a highlight” to his career.

“I never thought of it in the terms of ‘Warrior for Life’ until they started this foundation,” Grippo said. “I always use the warrior logo and all, but the whole idea of being the warrior for Franklin Township, for the school district, it's such an honor. I've received honors before and a lot of ‘Thank yous’ and things, but this kind of brought it all home.”

Plummer later spoke of the great breadth of professional and volunteer-based roles held by Nancy LaCorte, explaining that through her commitment to Franklin’s people, she “literally feeds our community with her presence and her engagement”.

“In sports and when you hear some people say the phrase 'Game recognize game'," Plummer said. "In our town when it comes to volunteerism and service, I would say ‘Heart recognizes heart’, and Nancy has shown all types of heart with the work that she does."

LaCorte used her acceptance speech to express both gratitude towards and pride in our community.

“I want to thank my family obviously for allowing me to take the time to do what makes me happy, but I want to thank the Franklin community for allowing me to be a part of you,” LaCorte said. “I'm so proud of this town and all that we do. To be able to give back and be a part of Franklin, [is something] I'm really proud about.”

As LaCorte returned to her seat, Plummer announced that it was her birthday; the room cried out a hearty, communal “Happy Birthday” wish, further exemplifying the feeling of family that had energized the venue for the entire night.

A Network of Warriors Emerges

The spirit of giving extended far beyond the scholarships, the silent bidding, and the fundraising. The room was abuzz with community members looking for ways to expand their professional network, share experiences, and pass on opportunities.

In a moment of giving speech, Curtis Valentine, Franklin Highschool Class of 1996 alumni, reminded attendees to share their light and to try to give everyone in the community a platform.

“Nobody here got there on their own,” Valentine, who drove eight hours to attend and speak the event, said. “The people in this room are making a space for you.”

After the distribution of silent auction winnings, the night ended on the dance floor. Community members young and old pulled out their favorite dance moves, teaching each other the steps as they went along.

“The storyline tonight, if I had to give one is that Franklin means family,” Rebekah Solomon, co-founder of the foundation, said.

She explained that close to $10,000 were raised through ticket sales, auction items, and donations throughout the evening – money that will go to support next year’s scholarship pool.

“We want to continue to give, continue to give ourselves to support the students of Franklin Township,” Solomon said. “Franklin equals a success story, and that's something that the entire world should know.”

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