Scholarship Winners!

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

= multi-year scholarships awarded!

Kaley Delker

Swimming

Loyola University

2021 AAO Scholarship Winner

Kaley is currently chairing the NAACP Education Committee for the State of Florida. Their main initiative for 2021 is creating an alternate system for discipline. The hope is to decrease the number of students suspended for non-violent offenses, such as dress code and tardiness.

Last year she was chosen to be on her church’s Youth Council. As a youth representative she represents the opinion of the church youth so their voice is heard by the church elders and deacons. In this role, she haas developed a re-opening plan during the COVID-19 pandemic, been a part of deciding what activities we participate in throughout our community, engage as a member of PEACE (Polk Ecumenical Action Council for Empowerment), empower others to get involved, presented at Youth Sunday Worship and led games at our weekly gatherings.

The Harrison Symphony Orchestra is an audition based program at my high school, where students come to play a wide variety of music. During her  sophomore year she was chosen to be Student Conductor and then in her junior year served as Concert Master and Orchestra Secretary. This year Kaley has the honor of being the Co-chair of the Mentor/Mentee Committee. This position has been challenging to fulfill due to COVID-19 and the inability to host activities in person. As an alternative we have been hosting bi-weekly zoom gatherings, playing games like Scattegories or Name that Tune, in order to build relationships with the newest members of the orchestra. Recently, we did have an outside tie-dye party.

As a person with a disability she understands the struggles of being overlooked and underappreciated by society. In her career, her hope is to bring justice and dignity, to people with Alzheimer's, an overlooked group of people, breaking through the stigmas society has placed on people with physical and mental disabilities.

In Alzheimer's research she specifically wishs  to focus on neuro-biological music therapy. Within the past ten years researchers have linked music with helping Alzheimer's patients, to not only remember past memories but also have an easier time transitioning into varying degrees of memory loss. Through continued research, she will be part of unlocking more discoveries.

On several mission trips, she had the opportunity to work with Alzheimer's patients, and has gotten to know more about this dreadful disease. She has come to know some of their struggles and challenges that they and their families experience, as a result of various stages of Azheimer’s. Her goal is to bring them hope as memory loss is decreased through the practice of music therapy.

As a result of a rare condition called Amniotic Band Syndrome, Kaley was born an amputee, right leg mid tibia, as well having some deformities in her right hand and left foot.  Many of the storms in her life have been associated with the countless struggles that come with living life as an amputee. After the original amputation, she needed three additional surgeries to even the bottom of her stump, to enable her to continue functioning. After every revision on her stump, learning how to walk again was always the hardest part, other than all the staring eyes and demeaning nicknames people called me. Every time she stands up no matter figuratively or emotionally, she always had support, whether it is from the bars beneath my arms or he family, who understands the struggles associated with being an amputee. Her grandfather also lost his limb, as a result of an accident when he was six years old. He has modeled for her on how to live an active life. He has had a successful career in real estate and education, serves actively in his church and played sports.

Similar to her grandfather, she has participated in a variety of sports, although her passion is swimming. One of the many techniques taught by her coach, was learning to dive off the starting block.  When you only have one leg, it is difficult to balance in order to get a competitive start. Understanding this difficulty, she decided to get creative by designing a customized leg for diving off a starting block. Her ideas were then discussed with her prosthetist specialist and they made a leg that opened up in the front, in order for her to dive out of it. While the first couple of attempts were difficult, She learned how to balance using new techniques. After discussing these techniques with her coach, they came up with even better ideas, which enabled her to dive out even further and faster, making her more competitive. At the end of the season Kaley’s Junior year, her coach presented her with the “Coach’s Award”. While making the presentation, her coach became very emotional as he acknowledged the hard work and effort she had put into each swim practice and meet. Through continue work with her coach, she was able to drop 20 seconds off her 500 freestyle race time and was therefore presented the “Most Improved Player Award” at the end of her Senior year.

Being on the team has taught Kaley to be adaptable to not only her circumstances, but also other people's circumstances. She has learned to see through the eyes of others in order to help them shift their techniques to become better swimmers. As a teammate, she learned how important it is to be available and encouraging to one another. Even though her teammates may not have see her cheering for them on the pool deck, knowing that she was there supporting them, can change the outcome of the race and of their life.

Kaley’s  time on the high school swim team instilled within her the art of determination. It gave her an opportunity to practice perseverance and to press through difficult and challenging experiences. She discovered new levels of courage and strength that enabled her to reach goals and swim in ways that she did not know were possible. When she started swimming in 7th grade, she could have never imagined that she would become a competitive long distance swimmer. She has come to believe in who she is, an overcomer. Good luck, Kaley!

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BobCurtis@RobinWagmanAAO.org