Out of a pool of more than 1,600 applicants, the Point Foundation selected 25 scholars who will attend undergraduate and graduate programs throughout the nation this fall and who were recognized for their academic achievements, leadership abilities and involvement in the LGBT community, among other criteria.
This year marks the first in which the Rand Skolnick Point Scholarship was awarded, a scholarship named for the out New Hope businessman who died in 2008.
The first recipient, Derek Blechinger, will use the award to pursue his medical degree at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
A native of rural Minnesota, Blechinger came out during high school in an environment that was not very supportive, and he encountered many who attempted to “cure” him. However, once in college, Blechinger was able to fully embrace his identity, co-chairing his school’s LGBT student group and establishing a gay-straight alliance at a high school in his area.
Blechinger began his work in the HIV/AIDS field at the Minnesota AIDS Project and later the Red Door Clinic, the state’s largest HIV clinic, where he provided HIV testing and counseling — experiences that solidified his desire to pursue his doctorate in medicine and eventually launch his own LGBT health center.
“For years, I worked in gay/bi men’s health doing HIV/STD testing and counseling, with an increased focus on the dramatic rise in HIV in young gay/bi men,” Blechinger said. “As a doctor, I will be able to do so much more for LGBTQ individuals. As a medical director of an LGBTQ public-health clinic, I will be able to better serve the community. And as a Point scholar, I will be able to increase the scope of my advocacy and make a real impact.”
Also hailing from a small town is Derek Livermont, a native of Montana, who will be heading east this fall to attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.
Livermont, who was outed in his freshman year of high school, went on to take several leadership positions in his high school and with national student organization Business Professionals of America, where he has served as both an elected state and national representative of the agency.
When he begins at Penn, Livermont will serve as the national vice president of the agency, in addition to juggling his coursework in his dual major of business and political science.
Livermont, who hopes to one day run for public office, said the support he’s seen from the Point Foundation has already been inspiring.
“The Point family has limitless opportunity because it brings people together from so many backgrounds and unites them under one cause — compassion,” he said. “If there is one true way that I can make a difference with Point, it is by showing other people the compassion that I’ve found with this family.”
In addition to the financial assistance, the Point Foundation also matches each scholar with a mentor to guide the completion of the required one community-service project a year and also provides career guidance.
“When they become scholars, they’re brought into this network, this family of mentors and of alumni,” Valencia said. “We have conferences where they’re able to speak to great people in our community, like David Mixner or Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, and they have their own opportunities to speak in public, which we train them to do. Once they leave as a scholar, we have an alumni association that they join because we have a commitment to having them be part of this Point family forever.”
Many of the students come from situations where they have faced adversity from their own families, which Valencia noted makes the Point Foundation even more integral to their development.
Natalie Brilmyer, a native of suburban Pittsburgh who will use her scholarship to continue her education as a fashion-design major at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, came out at age 15 and her family’s negative response precipitated her living on her own since that time.
Despite that challenge, however, she went on to found her high school’s first gay-straight alliance, served as a member of the board of directors of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and volunteered at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh.
At the Art Institute, Brilmyer runs the university’s Queers & Allies Club and has also created an online business selling LGBT-positive clothing.
All scholars had to have achieved a 3.3 grade-point average — a level they must maintain to retain their scholarship award. Jorge Valencia, CEO and executive director of the Point Foundation, said the scholars are just as devoted to community work as they are to their studies, noting that this year’s class of scholars has already logged more than 5,000 hours of community service.
“They all possess a commitment not only to the LGBT community, in terms of their volunteerism or activism, but also to society as a whole,” he said. “They’re not just focused on LGBT issues, but they’re also interested in issues like the environment or immigration and are contributing on a multitude of levels.” Valencia said situations like Brilmyer’s shed light on the obstacles many LGBT youth are faced with, and the strength it takes to overcome them.
“When you look at the statistics and how horrible they are — LGBT youth are four-and-a-half times more likely than their non-gay peers to drop out of high school — the simple fact that these students were able to get through school, even with the harassment they might have faced not only from their peers but also from their home lives as well, shows the resilience that they have and that commitment to do more with their lives,” he said.
For more information on the Point Foundation, visit www.pointfoundation.org.
Jen Colletta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.