Scholarship Winners!

Meet our deserving winners, read their bios and leave a few words of encouragement.

= multi-year scholarships awarded!

Brayden Dam

Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School

George Jenkins High School


University of Florida

2022 AAO Scholarship Winner

On September 1, 2019, wind gusts of over 200 miles per hour ravaged through my hometown of Abaco, Bahamas, destroying thousands of houses and buildings, taking numerous lives in the process. My house was one of them, but thankfully my life was spared.

I remember waking up that Sunday morning, unphased by the loud winds and rain outside my window. I felt no reason to be frightened because hurricanes were a normal occurrence in The Bahamas. However, as the hours passed the storm worsened, and I realized this was not a normal hurricane. The concrete walls of the house shook, and the bolted down shutters were ripped off the windows. Suddenly, a bedroom window shattered, followed by the kitchen window. The roof started to lift, tearing the house to pieces. It was no longer safe inside, so a decision was made to run to the cars in the driveway. Monstrous winds pushed debris throughout the air as we journeyed to the vehicles, somehow making it there safely. I sat in the backseat crying, thinking this was the end of my life, as the truck rocked back and forth continuously.

By Monday morning, the winds had finally died down. We ventured to the closest standing house nearby and found that many others were in the same position as their houses were also destroyed.  However, making it through the hurricane was not the end of the struggle. The entire island had been destroyed, leaving limited food and water throughout. People were robbing and even killing for whatever they could get. This was the scary reality for weeks after the storm ended. Luckily, we were finally able to escape to Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, and then eventually Lakeland, Florida.

This was a new beginning for me as I was forced to move to a new country with nothing. No house. No clothes. No possessions. Nothing. Still, these items were materialistic and replaceable, unlike my friends and family, for which I could no longer see on a regular basis. This was the toughest part and caused me to fall into a depressed state of mind for months, wishing I could have my old life back. I hated my new life in Lakeland. It was an unfamiliar environment with a different culture that was unique to me. Although the adjustment was difficult, I was able to get through it with the support of those around me. It taught me an abundance of life lessons that I am appreciative of and will never forget.

Since moving to the United States, I have been blessed with so many opportunities I would have never had. From meeting new people, to finding a great swimming team, to being able to go to a Collegiate High School are just a few of these opportunities. Due to these, I have been able to accomplish remarkable success in swimming. I have won many titles at the City of Lakeland swim meet and the Polk County Championships over my three years in Lakeland.  This year, I accomplished a great feat by setting a new City of Lakeland record in the 100 breaststroke, breaking a record set by Fred Schreiber back in 1999. I was able to qualify for the Florida High School State Championships in back-to-back years, placing 9th in the entire state in the 100 breaststroke this past season. Along with these accomplishments, I was also named Polk County male swimmer of the year, a title I am extremely honored to claim. Through all my athletic success, I have maintained excellent grades in school, achieving a 4.38 weighted GPA currently and being accepted into the University of Florida.

Overall, Hurricane Dorian has helped me mature significantly. It taught me that life is nothing without happiness and made me realize that I had an amazing life but was taking it for granted. I am now grateful for every little ounce of joy that takes over my body, but also for the tough times which make the good times better. The experience was hard for me and brought me to my lowest point, but I would never change any of it because it has taught me how to adjust to any situation and has given me a better understanding of life.


6750 Crescent Woods Circle

Lakeland FL 33813

CELL:  863.557.6143