SCHOLARSHIP $10,000 raised to honor memory
An adviser said it usually takes three to five years to raise that amount.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Victoria Pantoja is thrilled that social work students at Youngstown State University were able to collect the $10,000 needed to set up a perpetual scholarship in memory of fellow student Kimberly Ann DeOnofrio.
But, she said, they didn't do it alone.
"I truly believe that Kim is our angel. She's up there opening doors that have never been opened for us before," said Pantoja, of Ashtabula, vice president of the Student Social Work Association at YSU.
In exactly six months, the group collected $10,000, an amount that generally takes three to five years to raise, said Dr. Shirley Keller, an associate professor who advises the group.
"It shows their determination and passion and what good social workers they're going to be," Keller said. "Kim was a great person. I think they caught her passion and went with it."
"I know it's more than a coincidence that it happened that way," said Richard DeOnofrio of Austintown, Kimberly's father.
Kimberly DeOnofrio was 21 when she died in March 2003 after living with ovarian cancer since 1999. Her dream was to become an oncology social worker and she finished class work even on nights after she'd spent six hours in chemotherapy in Cleveland.
How hard she worked
She founded the YSU Chapter of the American Cancer Society Colleges Against Cancer and co-chaired YSU's first Relay for Life fund-raising event for the Cancer Society in 2002. She was a volunteer at the society and at the Cancer Care Center at St. Elizabeth Health Center.
She attended class, sometimes in a wheelchair, up until the week she died.
"She said, 'Thank God I have cancer,'" her father remembered, explaining that the disease enabled her to help others and inspired her to discover what she wanted to do with her life.
Mr. DeOnofrio and his wife, Mary, were at YSU this week as the student group made a deposit that sent the fund-raising effort over the $10,000 mark.
The amount means that there will be a scholarship awarded in Kimberly's name every year. The first scholarship, worth $300, will be presented on April 22 during a Social Work Day event at YSU.
Fund-raising started in September, when the association received its first box of candy bars to sell. The group hit the $10,000 mark in March, on the first anniversary of Kimberly's death.
"She truly was an inspiration for everything we've done," Pantoja said. "And we're not done."
Pantoja said she is hopeful the group will reach a $15,000 goal by the time she graduates this May. That amount would make the scholarship worth $500 each year. (Call (330) 941-1598 to help.)
Pantoja said the group modified the "I can, I will, I did" motto that Keller uses to motivate them as they prepare to take their social work licensing exams, writing a new motto alongside a paper thermometer that measured the fund-raising progress in YSU's Cushwa Hall.
"We can, we will and we did," Pantoja said. "And Kim will never be forgotten, not here, not at this university."
Robert Dixie of Youngstown said DeOnofrio was the first person he met when he went back to school in the fall of 2001.
"One thing I learned about her is she was very, very passionate about social work," he said. "She should have three Ds after her name -- dedicated, determined and dependable.
"She refused to be defeated."
Alongside Pantoja and Dixie, other members of the DeOnofrio scholarship committee are fellow social work majors Carl Hivner of Liberty Township, Tim Leancu of Youngstown, Erika Merklein of East Liverpool, Kenny Reyes of Youngstown and Kim Simon of Canfield.
Besides selling candy bars, the group sold flowers in memory of DeOnofrio at graduation ceremonies in December, where she received her degree posthumously. They also held raffles, a dinner dance and a weeklong event sponsored by Max & amp; Erma's restaurant in Niles.
"It was Kim's spirit driving us," Simon said.
"We believe Kim had a lot to do with this from behind the scenes -- or above the scenes," Leancu added. "Everything just worked."