The raised letters on the silver badge Kaleena Strelecki wears to work most days says Tisbury Police, but you could make an argument that this traffic cop who just graduated from the Martha's Vineyard Regional High school has earned some other badges as well.
Like a badge of perseverance. Or a badge of hope.
Ask her to recite where she went to school, and you can tell right off that her childhood was turbulent. She started at the Edgartown School, then did two years at the Tisbury School and another year back in Edgartown. She moved to New Bedford, stayed for two and a half years and then came back to graduate with the eighth graders in Edgartown.
But when Martha's Vineyard Regional High School guidance counselor John Fiorito was asked to write a recommendation for Miss Strelecki, he talked of her turnaround at the high school and called her a "shining star," the kind of kid that makes educators know why they got into that line of work in the place.
Last Friday night, Miss Strelecki walked away from awards night at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs with $6,000 in college scholarships from four separate funds. The largest check - for $2,500 - came from a relatively new program called the Lumina/Darrell Scholarship.
All told, the foundation gave away $50,000 last week, spread among a dozen Island students. But what's unique about Lumina/Darrell is that the scholarship recipients are not necessarily the ones with high grade point averages and college board scores.
More often, the scholarships, doled out in chunks of $2,000 and on up to $7,500, go to young people who were faced with some kind of hardship growing up. Maybe it was a financial setback or a death in the family or a language barrier faced by the child of an immigrant. In Miss Strelecki's case, a divorce led to the breakup of her family.
"I lived with my grandmother," she said yesterday during a break from directing traffic at the Vineyard Haven ferry terminal. "I have five sisters but we don't get to live together."
She credits her grandmother, Donna Frazio, with helping her see through difficult times.
"My grandma is all about setting goals. She'll work hard for whatever she wants," she says. "She taught me to save money."
Now, Miss Strelecki is preparing to head off to Fisher College in downtown Boston and pursue an education in criminal justice and a career not as a police officer, but possibly as a probation officer or a lawyer.
These are the kind of stories that make Norris Darrell Jr. smile. The retired corporate attorney who lives on Long Island, N.Y., and first came to the Vineyard for a summer vacation back in the 1940s also happens to be one of the directors of a sizable philanthropic outfit called the Lumina Foundation, which is based in Indianapolis, Ind.
"We have more than a billion dollars in assets," he said yesterday in a telephone interview from his home on Long Island.
A few years ago, Mr. Darrell was looking for a way to funnel some of that money back to the Vineyard. So he contacted the Permanent Endowment Fund for Martha's Vineyard to see if the community foundation could help select students for scholarships and disburse the funds.
Last year, Mr. Darrell, who donates some of his own money to the fund, and the Lumina group gave out $35,000. This year, the tally went up to $50,000 to continue support for students who had already won scholarships in previous years.
"I just felt over the years that it's really important to encourage young people from underserved groups to go for post-high school education that's so necessary today for personal growth and success," he said.
For Cheyenne Cimeno, a graduated senior from Vineyard Haven, the $2,500 scholarship from Mr. Darrell's foundation is vital to her dreams of attending Lasell College in Newton and becoming a kindergarten teacher.
"I wouldn't have been able to do it without it," she said yesterday in a telephone conversation.
Like several others in the pack who received money from this fund, she will be the first in the family to attend college. For Miss Cimeno, it was a death in the family that made life hard for her just as she started school.
"My father died when I was five. It was rough," she said. She has three siblings.
Over in Oak Bluffs, Samuel Bryant left the Tabernacle Friday night with about $15,000 in scholarships, $6,000 of it coming from the Lumina Foundation.
Mr. Bryant, who took a break yesterday from his job painting furniture for a cabinetmaker in Vineyard Haven to speak with the Gazette, said his early days in the classroom were hard.
"I had attention deficit and learning disabilities so I had to overcome all that stuff," he said. "Neither of my parents went to college. But my Dad, he didn't give up on me. He kept pushing me, and the teachers saw something in me."
Ranked 15th academically in his class, Mr. Bryant is now bound for Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y. where he will study creative writing. "They've got a really good English department there," he said.
Wender Ramos, who is now 23 and entering his senior year at Bridgewater State College, was 11 years old when he came to the United States from Brazil.
And while the young man from Vineyard Haven bangs nails in the summer for Rosbeck Construction, he isn't content to spend his life with a hammer in his hand. He really wants to become a pilot for the Air National Guard, but will have to wait until he can turn his work visa into a green card and his green card into U.S. citizenship.
Meanwhile, he studies aviation management and is especially grateful for the $7,500 scholarship from Mr. Darrell's fund.
"It's awesome," he said over the telephone, speaking English with no discernible accent. "My first semester cost me $15,000, and I was paying for school with my credit card. It was crazy. I couldn't get any financial aid because you have to be a citizen."
Mr. Darrell focused the mission of these scholarships when he decided to give more weight to the circumstances of a young person's life than their grades or hours of community service.
"The scholarships are to be awarded preferentially to students who are the first in their families to attend college or for whom English is a second language, or who are notable in overcoming a disadvantaged background or other handicap in pursuit of education," Mr. Darrell wrote.
For Heather Ewing, a 20-year-old from Oak Bluffs, the hardships were twofold: a sister with Down Syndrome and then a divorce. Both created enormous pressure. Time, money and energy were scarce.
"My school is pretty expensive," said the junior who attends Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I. and is studying to become a teacher.
"It's way too expensive for my family. We rely on these scholarships."