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Kaylee Alvarado '17: In the Spirit of the Gift | SUNY Plattsburgh

“Grow through what you go through,” said SUNY Plattsburgh senior Kaylee Alvarado about her life up until this point. Born in the Dominican Republic, Alvarado is a first-generation college student who had a rough start when she began school in the United States as a kindergartener on the lower East Side in downtown Manhattan.

“I was bullied because I didn’t know English,” she said. She turned to reading as an escape.

“I would stay inside during recess, and my kindergarten teacher would encourage me to write my own books. By the end of the year, I knew English like the back of my hand.”

Motivated by her progress, Alvarado said she felt encouraged and therefore succeeded in school, graduating with honors from a place where she says “not many students do well and make it out.”

“When I was accepted into SUNY Plattsburgh, I told myself that I was going to do the best I could and get the most out of it.” However, her transition to SUNY Plattsburgh was tough.  “It was a complete culture shock and I really wanted to go back home.”

Taking Full Advantage

However, she realized, “I have to do this, not only for me but for my family.”

Only a few weeks into the semester, Alvarado met with Kyla Relaford, director of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) at SUNY Plattsburgh.

“She took me aside and said, ‘Someday you’re going to look back and be grateful that you graduated from here. You’re going to do great things.’”

During her three and a half years on campus, Alvarado has done great things. She was the vice president of student affairs, a resident assistant, member of the Student Association, chair of El Pueblo and president of the EOP Student Association.

“As I got closer to graduation, I started to wonder how I could stay connected to EOP and impact incoming students. Right now, I’m here and able to work with students, but I also want to impact students when I’m gone.”

That’s when Alvarado came up with the idea to fund a scholarship. She gave up Starbucks, junk food and fast food.

“I thought if I give up these things, I can potentially put $500/$600 aside and use that for a scholarship.”

Creating a Student-to-Student Impact

“We’ve had students in the past who’ve wanted to give back,” Relaford said. “EOP students are amazing in that way. They want to help each other. But Kaylee wanted to do more. She was really interested in creating a student-to-student impact and not waiting until the day when she might have the resources.”

When Alvarado pitched the scholarship idea, Relaford said that she was moved but wasn’t surprised at all.

“This is very Kaylee. Coming from a student with a big heart and mind, you expect big ideas. She works smart and makes things happen. How do you not get behind that?”

Relaford presented the idea to Anne Hansen, vice president of institutional advancement and executive director of the Plattsburgh College Foundation.

“Listening to Kaylee’s story and her desire to help current and future EOP students at SUNY Plattsburgh was heartwarming. We have never had a student offer to start a scholarship before they even entered the alumni ranks.  We needed to celebrate and support t Kaylee’s spirit of giving,” Hansen said.

The Launch of an Annual Campaign

“We decided to expand upon Kaylee’s selfless philanthropy and launch an annual campaign for all EOP.  We’re calling it, ‘In the Spirit of the Gift’ to reflect Kaylee’s inspiring generosity and to honor the gift that all EOP students receive when they are assisted and mentored by our incredibly dedicated EOP counselors. Our goal is urge EOP alumni to follow Kaylee’s example, so we can grow the EOP Fund and award a $2,500 ‘Spirit of Giving’ scholarship to an EOP student each year, as well as provide additional resources to further enrich the EOP experience for all students,” Hansen stated.

Alvarado is thrilled with the response she’s received from college staff and the potential growth of the scholarship.

“Over the years, EOP has given me some incredible opportunities. They saw something in me that, at the time, I didn’t see. I want others to have that experience too,” she said.

“We hope that students will start to think - not just financially, but in other ways they can support each other. We want to spark the spirit of giving whether in time, encouragement, or whatever. It is vital to students’ success,” Relaford said.

Now in her last semester, Alvarado is interning at the Washington Institute in the public defender’s office in D.C.

“I get updates from her a couple time a week. She’s doing great work and they love her,” Relaford said.  At the end of the day, we’re trying to get students in the door, through the door, and out the door with their degrees, and we want them to go on to have amazing lives. When EOP alumni rally together we can provide increased scholarships to help students along the way.”

In response to the potential impact of the scholarship, Alvarado said, “You can’t change the world by yourself, but you can change someone’s world, and that’s enough, at least for me.”

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