The first recipient of the Molly Hightower Memorial Scholarship joins the UP community
By Kate Stringer , Staff Writer email@example.com
Two and a half years ago, 3,000 miles away from Portland, an earthquake struck Haiti and buried two UP alumnae under a fallen building.
While 2009 graduate Rachel Prusynski escaped, her friend and fellow ’09 graduate Molly Hightower did not.
Not too far away from Hightower and Prusynski, current UP freshman Jean-Francois Seide felt the room shaking while watching TV in his apartment with three friends.
“We ran out and the house collapsed and I lost everything,” Seide said. “I was sleeping in the street for three days, three nights.”
Hightower was in Haiti volunteering for Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos or Nos Petits Frerès et Soeurs orphanage (NPH/NPFS, Spanish/French for “Our little brothers and sisters”), working in the St. Germaine program for children with special needs.
Prusynski was visiting Hightower when the earthquake hit, destroying NPH’s facilities and killing many of the staff and volunteers inside.
“Molly was the typical college girl. She watched America’s Next Top Model and drank Dr. Pepper. She surprised me when she said she was going to work in an orphanage in Haiti. I was really proud,” Prusynski said. “In the last twelve days I had with Molly I got to see a new side to her. She was passionate and grounded and really cared about those kids.”
While Hightower’s family, friends and the UP community grieved, they also worked to make sure her death would be a new beginning.
This year, UP welcomes Seide as the first recipient of the Molly Hightower Memorial Scholarship.
“I think part of the reason for creating the scholarship was because I had survivor’s guilt. I wanted to be able to give back as a way of deserving a second chance at life,” Prusynski said. “When you go to Haiti, you can’t say no to these kids. This was a way to say yes.”
Together with Prusynski, donors Joseph and Helen Allegretti created a fully – funded scholarship for students from Haiti in honor of Hightower.
“The ultimate goal is that the recipient return to Haiti to help fix it,” Prusynski said. “Jean-Francois is incredibly committed to going back to help.”
Seide had lived in the NPH orphanage since he was seven. Last year he attended a leadership program at Seattle Community College, sponsored by Friends of the Orphans. It was in Seattle that Jean-Francois first learned of the Molly Hightower Memorial Scholarship.
“I think it was a good opportunity,” Seide said. “It’s something that’s kind of like once in a lifetime.”
While he and Hightower never met, Seide proved to have a strong commitment to his NPH family.
Following the destruction of his home, Jean-Francois returned to NPH and volunteered in the hospital. He also helped found the Angels of Light program four days after the earthquake. Angels of Light initially served as a day camp for children in Haiti to support them after the devastation of the earthquake.
“Every day they come, they eat and we play with them; we give them clothes,” Seide said.
Angels of Light had eighteen different centers around Port-au-Prince, which assisted 2,500 children. Additionally Seide worked to help transition the day camps into schools as well as housing for the children who lost their families in the earthquake.
“We got supplies in the containers and then by July we started turning those containers into homes, and now we have 200 kids living in those containers,” Seide said. “We’re still looking for money to build houses.”
Seide plans to study business, economics and social justice. After graduation he hopes to find a scholarship for a master’s program in non-profit management before returning home and connecting NPH with other organizations to provide more support for his community.
“I go to UP, I get all this knowledge and then I want to work in UNICEF or another large non-profit organization in the world so we can get connected,” Seide said.
While he has big plans for his future, Seide looks forward to enjoying his time on The Bluff.
“I really want to involve myself. I’m really trying to give myself in everything I can,” Seide said.
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