Meet the 2020 Youth Scholarship Program National Finalists
First Place Overall National Finalist – Megan O’Grady of Florida
Megan O’Grady, the recipient of this year’s ESA Youth Scholarship national first place award, was inspired by her father to give back to society and even create new ways to serve her community. She is an academically accomplished entrepreneur with aspirations of opening a psychology practice to address PTSD among police officers.
Her father, Patrick O’Grady, is a sergeant in the Cape Coral Police Department.
In the fall, she will be attending University of Central Florida in Orlando in pursuit of a psychology degree. She has stated that she wants to make a difference in communities like her father has through his service as a police officer. As people learn more about Megan, they quickly realize this will not be the first time she has made a big impact.
Megan was inspired by the challenges her father has faced as a police officer in such a polarized environment for law enforcement in recent years — so she started a nonprofit called Blueline Bears (bluelinebears.org) in 2017.
Through the organization, Megan makes teddy bears out of the uniforms of fallen officers and sends the comforting companion to the officers’ families. As of July 2020, she has made more than 700 bears for families around the world, including 40 US states, Afghanistan, England and Canada.
“Megan’s ability to execute her idea sets her apart from others, regardless of age. Her ability to sustain the organization that she founded … coupled with the unexpected rapid growth and demand for her service is truly exceptional,” writes Joseph Welch, a community leader who met Megan in the Cape Coral Leadership Program. “Megan has sacrificed much of her childhood working tirelessly to provide comfort to families in need, always placing service above self and never faltering to provide the service she promised.”
While running the Blueline Bears organization and applying for colleges, she has maintained strong academic performance and has remained involved in other community activities. She attributes her work ethic and focus on service to the inspiration and influence of her father.
“Although the creation of Blue Line Bears is by far the greatest outward reflection of my dad’s influence, his example has also shaped the way I live my life every day. He has taught me how to be a good person and make good decisions … He has also taught me to work hard for what I want,” says Megan. “His hard work day in and day out served as a model for me on how to work for what I want in life. If I could be half as good as my dad, I would feel I have lived an honorable and fulfilling life.”
Second Place Overall National Finalist – Abigail Richardson of Ohio
Abigail Richardson is the second place overall national finalist in the 2020 ESA Youth Scholarship Program. Her commitment to promoting literacy, community involvement and academic rigor have gotten her this far and will continue to propel her as she pursues a medical degree.
Her father, Robert Richardson, is a police officer in the Cleveland University Hospitals precinct.
“My dad’s career as a police officer has taught me to always look out and help others,” says Abigail.
Abigail has demonstrated passion for helping marginalized communities through initiatives like the sustainable borrowing library for refugees she created with a local nonprofit.
“Volunteering with the International Institute of Akron provided a glimpse into the needs of the organization and how I could give back,” says Abigail. “Providing early access to print material has proven successful with reading readiness and helping our new refugees transition into their new surroundings. I also volunteered my literacy expertise with the CEO of a local company employing new refugees to create a second literacy space in the employee lunchroom. Improving literacy just may be the cornerstone of changing society.”
Her drive to work hard and serve the community has been noted by her teachers as well. In addition to her extracurricular involvement in sports and the school band, she has consistently chosen to take on challenging coursework at school.
“I appreciate Abigail’s sense of wonder. She seeks challenges and does not back down when she experiences difficulty. When presented with the choice, Abigail always chooses the more rigorous pathway,” writes Sasha Maseelall, a faculty member at Abigail’s high school.
In the fall, Abigail plans to begin her medical education with the goal of becoming a surgeon for underserved Native American populations in South Dakota.
“There has been so much uncertainty with COVID-19 that earning this scholarship was a huge financial relief,” says Abigail. “With the goal of becoming a future healthcare provider and understanding the crucial need of mental health services for our first responders, it is my aspiration to raise nationwide awareness.”
First Round First Place Winners from Participating States
The following are all first–place winners from the 14 participating states where local associations participate in the ESA Youth Scholarship program.
The first place winners of state awards were:
- David Vojtaskovic of California
- Michael Amella of Colorado
- Jordyn Hunt of Connecticut
- Megan O’Grady of Florida
- Lauren Bailey of Georgia
- Holly Picket of Indiana
- Whitney Dawson of Kentucky
- Lily Larsen of Nevada (Clark County)
- Avery Snyder of New York
- Savannah Pless of North Carolina
- Abigail Richardson of Ohio
- Rebekah Seamans of Pennsylvania
- Jonathan Schade of Washington
- Hannah Wenzel of Wisconsin
The national finalists are selected from these first–place winners.
ESA congratulates all recipients of awards in the 2020 ESA Youth Scholarship Program and wishes them the best in their future pursuits.
The 2020 ESA Youth Scholarship Program was sponsored by COPS Monitoring and DMP.