Congratulations to all 2019-2020 George E. Jonas Scholarship Recipients!

Post-Camp, campers continue to impact their communities in remarkable ways. LAJF is committed to recognizing and supporting such great achievements. The George E. Jonas (the founder of Camp Rising Sun) Scholarship is a manifestation that LAJF has created to assist our alumni in their pursuit of higher education. Each academic year, this scholarship is awarded to alumni who have been enriched by the Camp Rising Sun program and are using the values and knowledge they have acquired to help their communities in creative and exciting ways. We are thankful for the generosity of the Georges Lurcy Trust, CRS alumni, and friends which enables LAJF to offer these college scholarships to CRS alumni.

In this blog, we are highlighting the outstanding undergraduate and graduate 2019 GEJ scholarship recipients whose Camp experience is reflected in their studies, goals, and aspirations.

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Joshua Kalenga (‘14) is a former CRS camper from Zambia. Camp inspired him to be involved in CRS/LAJF-related activities. He initiated a Facebook birthday fundraiser for Camp, united his campmates as the admin of the Red Hook 2014 Facebook group, and created a series of Youtube videos to promote Camp. Joshua is studying at Colorado College and hopes to graduate with a Computer Science degree. 

Joshua’s experience at Camp taught him how to appreciate cultural diversity. “In fact, I had become so obsessed with cultural diversity that I applied to and was accepted at a United World College (UWC) in Hong Kong”. In addition to this, Joshua spent a week in 2018 volunteering in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to support victims of child trafficking. In March 2019, he traveled to Kathmandu, Nepal to support displaced children and victims of child trafficking. 

“It was only after painfully having to leave my newly made friends from around the world at the end of Camp that I realized how much of my heart had been given to people and places that spanned borders, continents and cultural differences. The subsequent effect of my love for these people (and the countries they had introduced me to) was, simply put, empathy. I found myself taking genuine interest in global issues – not because they were fascinating to read about in a textbook – but because I knew and loved people that were affected.”

Joshua also hopes to make an impact in his home country, Zambia. He hopes to use a Computer Science degree to assist football organizations similar to Grassroots Soccer, a Zambian organization that utilizes soccer to support the youth. Such organizations require computer scientists to manage their website and data. Furthermore, Joshua aspires to be an innovator and to create a football academy where data analytics focus on improving player performance. To prepare himself for the technical aspect of football, Joshua plans to take online courses and FIFA’s coaching license courses from his local football association, the Football Association of Zambia. 

“Zambia is a country in desperate need for the servant leadership valued and taught to me at Camp Rising Sun. Corruption is rife as leaders seem more concerned with amassing personal wealth than with addressing the country’s need for sustainable development. In ten years, by applying my computer science and football knowledge to provide opportunities and hope to Zambians through sport, I believe that I will be playing my part in addressing the country’s need for selfless leadership”. 

We are confident that Joshua is capable of impacting lives not only in Zambia, but around the world. We admire Joshua’s courageous spirit and his determination to make a difference! 

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Meri Valimaki (‘15) is a former CRS camper from Turkey. Camp inspired her to be involved with camper selections. She also attended reunions as a member of the California Alumni Association. She is currently studying at the University of California, Berkeley 

Meri hopes to achieve an undergraduate degree, medical degree, and to complete her residency related to her specialty field. She is currently pursuing a path in medicine and wishes to initiate her own research project or work with a team to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. One of her main goals is to join groups, like Doctors Without Border, to help those with medical needs. For many summers, Meri has interned at numerous hospitals. 

As the first Female Motocross Racer in Turkey, Meri hopes to create a motosport organization supporting female riders especially in her own country, Turkey, where she believes that females are not fully accepted in motorsports. 

“With this organization, I want to change the negative environment I had to be in while I was racing motocross in Turkey and Finland. I had my family to support me, but it was still difficult, and some girls may not even have their families to support them so this organization is a must to provide a safe space for females interested in motorsports as well as to promote equality, open-mindedness and inclusion. This organization will be a solid step to create a welcoming community of motorsport lovers in countries lacking it, which is actually every country, but some countries have improved much more than others on this topic.” 

Meri started racing motocross in 2010. In 2013, she began racing as the only girl (and as the first female in Turkey to do so) in the Turkish Nationals and Eastern-European Motocross Championships and achieved championship titles. Since 2017, Meri has been working with the Turkish Motorcycling Federation to encourage more female racers by creating a women’s category in the Turkish Motocross Championship. 

Whether it be leading her own research project for Alzheimer’s or initiating a motorsport organization for female riders, Meri’s CRS experience has provided her with the knowledge and tools equipped for such great plans. 

“At CRS, I met girls from over 30 diferent places each with unique stories and thoughts.

While brainstorming in groups, working on projects, or even just casual chatting, I saw how when one of us threw an idea, every single person had something different to add that helped to build and improve that specific idea. The strongest, most effective discussions like the one we had on food waste and the most concrete, innovative projects like the one where we built the tire swing came from collaborating, listening to what everyone had to say, challenging each other’s ideas constructively, and encouraging those to speak up who feel shy to share their thoughts. At CRS, I understood that in a group those who feel naturally confident should make sure those staying quiet feel respected and valued so that they can find courage and share their thoughts. My experiences in discussions and projects at Camp showed me the power of diversity and collaboration while allowing me to understand different cultures extensively. Coming out of Camp, I see myself as an open-minded individual who not only values and respects but also seeks for diversity and knows how to find common ground with others”. 

We have no doubt that Meri will achieve her great plans for a future career in healthcare, the motorcycle organization, and volunteering in community projects. 

Monica Janvier (‘15 ‘16) has been a CRS/LAJF camper, volunteer, and has helped with NYC/NJ selection. Currently, she is a fellow at the Louis August Jonas Foundation where she has written blogs for the LAJF website, such as the series “The Female Pioneers of CRS 1989”. Monica is a Sophomore studying at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University(NYU). She is studying and planning an individualized concentration focusing on the intersection of Psychology, Sociology, Journalism, and Business. She is also minoring in Spanish, which is partially inspired by her study abroad experience in Guanajuato, Mexico during the summer of 2017. She resided with a native host family, studying Mexican culture and Spanish. Monica has sustained her CRS leadership as she achieved the position of Director of Service of NYU’s Rubin residence hall (2018-2019). Under this role, she initiated several Service events and fundraisers for current issues. Currently, she is the Director of Recognition & Development at NYU’s Second Street Residence.

Monica hopes to achieve a career in Journalism. This was partially inspired by her experience as an intern this summer at Media 4 Humanity, an organization dedicated to eradicating child slavery and exploitation in America. As an intern, she researched legislation and traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby for H.R. 1950, Sara’s Law, an anti-child trafficking bill that encourages courts to consider trauma when determining the sentencing of victims who commit crimes against their abuser. Monica lobbied for this bill locally and nationally at offices including Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, respectively. In addition, Monica discovered her interest in Journalism after attending the New York Press Club Awards for Journalism as a volunteer. She spoke with several prominent Journalists such as Chris Kokenes from CNN, Helen Chernikoff from The Forward, and Steve Scott from WCBS and even listened to Jim Acosta give a speech. “Not only did I become inspired by the momentous work of these individuals, but I found an interest that I shared with many of them: storytelling”. Growing up as a poet and storyteller, Monica believes that she can combine these two skills as a Journalist. 

Monica was also inspired to pursue Journalism due to her experience as a fellow of the LAJF fellowship. “As a Fellow, I’m currently interviewing alumnae from the first CRS girls’

session in 1989. In celebration of their 30th anniversary, I’ll be creating blog posts of each alumna I interview and publishing it to the LAJF website. Throughout this experience, I’m learning that I have a genuine passion for interviewing people and storytelling. I enjoy telling the stories of inspiring people, such as the first women of CRS, because I believe that their stories can impact the lives of many. As a future journalist, I hope to tell stories in a manner that inspires others, the same way that these stories inspire me”. 

Apart from Journalism, Monica hopes to continue telling stories by becoming a published author. Being raised in a proud family of Haitians, Monica hopes to share the immigration story of Haitians in America. “I hope to publish a book of this research to educate America of an immigrant group that has consistently been discriminated against and ignored, and to aid in the preservation of Haitian culture which has often been rejected by Americans and Haitians in a society that shames their culture”. 

We are excited to see Monica’s future accomplishments as she continues to write! 

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John Tomlinson (‘15) is a former camper from Kansas. He is attending Swarthmore College and planning to major in Peace and Conflict Studies with a focus in pre-law. John is mainly interested in studying the intersection of religion, politics, and sexuality and their impact on violence and war. John aspires to be a multilingual human rights attorney. He is also interested in studying migration and displacement. In recent years, John has volunteered with No Más Muertes/No More Deaths, an advocacy group supporting the lives of undocumented immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

 “I am very moved by refugees and displaced people around the world and would like to raise awareness and find global solutions… At CRS, living surrounded by adult leaders and youth interested in making the world a better place inspired me to volunteer more and work on social justice issues. I became very involved with the Unitarian Universalist church and learned about activism. Some highlights of my activism include the trainings I attended in New Orleans on racism and community building and in Arizona on immigration. I even trained as a Youth Chaplain because other youth would come to me with issues. The training prepared me to help them”. 

John hopes to achieve a joint MDiv/JD degree or a doctorate degree from Harvard to become an educated activist who changes policies locally and globally. 

Camp played a major role in John’s future goals and aspirations: 

“Before I went to Camp Rising Sun I thought I would become a life-long volunteer. I started doing community service at a young age and knew of its value. After Camp Rising Sun, I imagined myself not only volunteering but also becoming someone who affects policy and change both locally and globally. CRS instilled a sense of duty and responsibility in me to reach my full potential as a person dedicated to the betterment of people’s lives. At CRS, living surrounded by adult leaders and youth interested in making the world a better place inspired me to volunteer more and work on social justice issues. CRS increased my cultural awareness. I came to realize that living in another culture was the best way to understand it. I earned scholarships to high school programs abroad and learned Spanish and German by studying in Europe. I was one of the few Americans in the towns where I studied; I was totally immersed in the culture. I lived most of my life in rural Kansas. Camp Rising Sun was my first experience of meeting and living with such a large and diverse group of people. I learned every day from everyone. ...Attending CRS encouraged me to reach new heights and search out more opportunities. I realize that it was perfect timing because it gave me a global perspective at a young age and forged a path toward living an international, purposeful and ethical life. I plan to continue this trajectory through college and beyond”. 

We are excited about the work that John has accomplished so far. His goals include participating in campus activities related to social justice and working to improve the conditions of refugee camps. John attended his third ACLU Summer Institute in August and hopes to start an ACLU student chapter on campus as well as create workshops for students.

 We are so proud of all of John’s achievements and his drive to continue creating great impacts on communities!


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Samah Abaza (‘98, ‘11, ‘12) is a former CRS camper and drama counselor. She graduated from Cairo University in 2004 and from Goldsmiths, University of London in 2013 with her first MA in Creative Entrepreneurship in Media and Communications. In 2017, she achieved an MA in Media Studies at the New School. This academic year, she began her first year toward a Ph.D in Media Research and Practice at the University of Colorado Boulder. We are so proud of the success that Samah has achieved thus far as she continues on her education! 

Samah currently works as a Filmmaker and Digital Storyteller. Prior to this, she earned a degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences. “I lived up to Egyptian cultural ideals that valued pragmatic career choices over creative ones. Soon after graduation, I found myself unsatisfied with this path and began contemplating a career shift. I started working for a non-profit organization on short-term field studies that were mostly centered on addressing environmental hazards in rural communities and slums in Cairo. This job challenged me to explore Egypt from an activist perspective. I became very socially engaged and spent four years designing projects to improve the quality of life in disadvantaged communities. Far from setting me on a traditional career path, this job instead served as a bridge between the pharmaceutical world, and the world of creating media to ignite social change”.  

In 2009, Samah led an Arab-Danish interactive program that focused on environmental innovations. Around this time, Samah was inspired by the January 25th Egyptian revolution to write a one-act play about Egypt’s environmental issues. “Nature Revolts was performed in both Egypt and Denmark, and recognized for its creative dialogue around themes of social justice. These two projects were a turning point in my professional endeavors. They taught me that a creative tool is essential for communicating complex ideas, and that stories are more effective at changing beliefs than dry written arguments. Storytelling has been an essential part of my life ever since. It was no longer a tool that I used to make science accessible, but rather a medium that helped me become more in tune with the world around me”. 

“After my experience in Denmark, I became interested in intercultural storytelling. In 2011, I came back to CRS to work with campers on creating their drama production. Lucky for me, it was centered on culture, identity, and language. I had the opportunity to work closely with a professional playwright who volunteered for Camp that season, and while we worked with campers on their scripts, I focused on learning from her how to tell a good story, on finding the right building blocks, and a compelling narrative arc.” 

Shortly after this experience, Samah made the decision to attend graduate school. She is now pursuing a PHD. “ The PhD in Media Research and Practice provides the ideal context for me to ground my filmmaking practice with a theoretical framework that emphasizes the role of narrative in expressing and transmitting social knowledge. I am confident that I can bring a strong international perspective to the program, and a documentary practice that is grounded in social location. In doing so, I hope to become a teacher and a filmmaker able to use both film and digital media in the service of under-represented communities and unexamined issues."

 We are amazed by Samah’s great achievements and cannot be more proud! We are excited to see where her path takes her, and are happy to support her goals. 

We would like to thank everyone that applied this year and encourage everyone to apply next year. Read more about the Scholarship and how to apply here.