United Way of Western Connecticut (UWWCT) awarded two Stamford High School Students as the recipients of the Roberta K. Eichler Heart of Gold Scholarship for 2023. Jose Portillo and Kayla Williamson, both students at Westhill High School in Stamford, were presented with their scholarships during a UWWCT Stamford community council meeting.
"Each year we receive applications from outstanding students committed to making a difference where they live," said Isabel Almeida, President of United Way of Western Connecticut. “Jose and Kayla are remarkable young leaders who will undoubtedly go on to do amazing things. It is an honor to name them as this year's Heart of Gold Scholarship recipients.”
The Heart of Gold Scholarship is named in honor of Roberta K. Eichler, Executive Director of the Stamford Volunteer Center, for over 20 years. Each year, United Way of Western Connecticut awards a $5,000 scholarship to two outstanding student volunteers from the Stamford community with the goal of promoting continued education.
Jose Portillo works at his local Boys & Girls Club where he volunteers an additional 30 hours per month, serves as a program leader for the Keystone Club, and has been a musical volunteer leader at his church as a mentor for younger musicians for five years.
“When people need help, you really have to put yourself in their shoes,” Jose wrote in his essay. When asked about his volunteer experience he said it makes him “happy to interact with other people who also want to help.” Jose was named “Keystone Member of the Year” by his local Boys and Girls Club for his work. In his recommendation letter for this scholarship Nadene McKenzie-Reid, volunteer advisor for the Keystone Club, wrote “Jose as a leader and a role model within the club is magical to watch... He demonstrates patience, care, and character with every interaction.”
Kayla Williamson is a passionate advocate for mental health and environmental consciousness. She is an executive Member of the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council, the founder and president of the Westhill Environmental Club, volunteered as a COVID-19 Vaccine Ambassador through Stamford Hospital, and an ongoing volunteer at the New Covenant Center.
“Kayla truly has big ideas, but even more impressive is her ability to make them into a reality through her exceptional communication skills and determination,” said Carley Grant from the Westhill High School Science Department in her recommendation for Kayla. “Everything about her is impressive – she has the innate ability to analyze and make connections... Considering her kind spirit, huge heart, and bright mind, I have no doubt that she will continue to make a positive difference in the world.”
Heart of Gold Scholarship selection is made by a committee of Stamford community volunteers, including Roberta K. Eichler herself, and is based on students’ active participation, dedication, and commitment toward volunteer events and projects along with demonstrated leadership qualities in connection with volunteerism. Applicants must be in their senior year of high school and live in or attend a school in Stamford, Connecticut.