December 18, 2018
When Hanover Park High School senior Gina Santora put her extracurricular activities on hold to provide long-term care to a student with Cerebral Palsy, it was not only a reflection of her good character and the lessons she learned in a family that regularly cared for family members in need, but also a window into the mind of a young woman positively determined to achieve her dream of a college education.
Despite three of her grandparents experiencing illnesses and their reliance on her father, a firefighter in Montclair, Gina was unbowed.
“Our family situation has inspired me to want nothing more than to work as hard as my parents have always worked, attend the best university for culinary arts, and be the best pastry chef I can be,” Gina wrote in her scholarship application.
The Community Foundation of New Jersey’s scholarship committee ultimately selected Gina as a recipient of the Alfred J. Speak Scholarship.
Now a student at Johnson & Wales University where she is majoring in Baking & Pastry Arts, Gina proved the wisdom of that decision. She repeatedly makes the Dean’s list, passed her Food Safety and Sanitation State exam, and was recently chosen from hundreds of applicants to participate in an internship at Walt Disney World Resorts in Orlando, Florida.
As part of the internship, Gina worked twelve-hour days, making cakes and cupcakes for all the restaurants within the Contemporary Hotel resort. The chefs were so struck by Gina’s strong work ethic and excellence in the kitchen that they extended her internship, which was originally supposed to end in May 2018, through the rest of the summer.
Back at Johnson & Wales for the fall semester of her junior year, Gina expected two more years of challenging courses and new experiences. But that’s when the Walt Disney World Resorts called again. They asked Gina if she was able to graduate early, in which case they would welcome her back to the resort’s kitchen.
Working with her academic counselor, Gina found a way to balance her coursework and graduate a full year earlier than planned. The Community Foundation of New Jersey was thrilled to hear the news and, after consulting with the scholarship review committee, elected to award the balance of Gina’s four-year scholarship.
“I am forever grateful to the Community Foundation of New Jersey for awarding me the Alfred J. Speak Scholarship,” said Gina. “It allowed me to pursue my dreams at J&W University. I made a promise when they chose me that I would not let them down and would make them proud of their decision. I am so happy I have been able to fulfill that promise.”