Beat the Odds® Program

The Children’s Defense Fund-New York Beat the Odds® scholarship program provides social and academic college readiness programming to high school students that are working hard to overcome tremendous obstacles in their personal lives, who demonstrate academic achievement and give back to their community. In addition, the Beat the Odds program offers scholarship opportunities and support services to aid scholars throughout their college career—including ongoing mentoring, internship placements and career guidance.

Each Beat the Odds scholar receives a scholarship to put toward their college expenses and is honored at the annual CDF-NY Beat the Odds awards gala.

Since 1995, the Children's Defense Fund Beat the Odds scholarship program has been awarded to nearly 700 students nationwide. Alumni of the program have graduated from some of the nation's premier universities and serve in a diverse range of occupations.

2018 CDF-NY Beat the Odds Scholars

Congratulations to the 2018 CDF-NY Beat the Odds® Scholars!

Their stories will remind you how one caring adult can help change the outcome for a child in need. Please read and watch the stories of these five extraordinary youths who beat the odds stacked against them and learn how you can help make their dreams come true.

Zyiel Baughan

For Zyiel, growing up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan was no fairytale. Abandoned by her parents, Zyiel spent her formative years in a home occupied by several other relatives. It was there that she was exposed to adults with serious addiction problems, with needles strewn about the house and the smell of crack-cocaine permeating her clothes. When the one aunt who offered her affection died from a drug overdose, and her best friend was murdered as a result of gang violence, Zyiel was alone and bereft. Fortunately, she found solace and direction at school, where she felt welcomed and useful. An avid reader, she would lose herself in books, and in subjects like math and science. Understanding that education would be her ticket out of her circumstances, she made her studies, and holding down a job to support herself, her highest priorities. She now excels academically, maintaining a 4.0 GPA, and she has been selected as the Valedictorian of her senior class at the Young Women’s Leadership School in East Harlem. Seeing the lives of family members and close friends destroyed by drugs motivated her to become an activist, and to study to eventually become a social worker. Zyiel is committed to helping others beat the odds in their lives as she has done and looks forward to attending college to realize her goals.

Watch Zyiel's video

Omar Newman

At the age of ten, Omar moved to New York from California to join his mother, and what was supposed to be a short stay in a homeless shelter dragged on for four years. Initially, the dramatic change of circumstances left Omar unmotivated, underperforming, and in danger of succumbing to the allure of the streets. However, Omar’s desire to be a role model for his younger brother motivated him to document his story to inspire his brother, and to find support in a mentoring program at school, which gave him renewed confidence and better ways to deal with his academic and personal challenges. Omar has not only improved his grades, but has completed college credit courses on Saturdays. He takes advantage of every opportunity that comes his way, whether it is tutoring and extra credit work or mastering fencing and competing city wide. Omar is excelling not only academically, but in football as well, which he hopes to play in college, while majoring in Sports Management and Software Engineering.

Omar's video

Chinomso Keslyn Ononiwu

As albino Nigerian twins born in Italy, Keslyn and her sister have been forced to deal with strangers judging their appearances and challenging their intellect. But that issue pales in comparison to having endured placement in foster care, when their mother was forced to leave them to pursue employment to support them. The elation experienced when their mother returned was too brief. Tragically, in the middle of the night their home, heated only by burning coals, filled with carbon monoxide. Keslyn, a mere ten years old, could not find her mother, but was able to use her full strength to rescue her sister from the house. Later, while at the hospital the girls learned their mother had died, leaving them emotionally devastated and in limbo for three years, until relatives were able to bring them to the New York. Keslyn, who had neglected her studies and talents, eventually returned to being studious with a renewed conviction, to honor and celebrate her mother’s legacy. Focusing not on what is lost but on who and what you have in your life today, Keslyn maintains a 3.5 GPA while also paying volleyball, volunteering at her church and remaining active in the performing arts. On the pre-med track, Keslyn plans to major in Biology and eventually become a Dermatologist.

Watch Keslyn's video

Amy Pantoja

A series of events landed Amy and her family in a Bronx homeless shelter, where they have lived for several years. Amy values her education and hasn’t allowed her circumstances to prevent her from reaching her full potential. During her first few weeks at the shelter, when she was unable to attend school, she created a plan to ensure that she maximized her four-hour round trip commute to focus on her studies. When she returned to school, she met with each teacher to explain her circumstances and to obtain missed assignments which she diligently completed. Amy doesn’t allow inconveniences like the lack of a computer impede her ability to study or complete her homework. Instead, she often spends her limited free time in the library at school or near the shelter, with her determination paying off as evidenced by her 4.0 GPA. She is extremely grateful for every kind act and helping hand she has received. To “pay it forward,” Amy, who aspires to become a veterinarian, continuously helps her peers and community members in need because she appreciates the support and encouragement needed to overcome seemingly impossible odds.

Watch Amy's video


The CDF-New York Beat the Odds® scholarship program provides social and academic college readiness programming to high school students that are working hard to overcome tremendous obstacles in their personal lives, who demonstrate academic achievement, and give back to their community.

Ten sophomores will be selected from the nomination pool, and will have the opportunity to apply for scholarships provided by the Children’s Defense Fund-New York during their senior year.

CDF-New York Beat The Odds scholarship recipients receive the following:

  • A college scholarship;
  • One-on-one college counseling, career guidance, SAT preparation, opportunity to tour colleges, life skills & leadership development;
  • Support services throughout their high school and college career; including ongoing mentoring, internship placements and career guidance;
  • Opportunities to participate in CDF-NY policy and programs; CDF Freedom Schools® program, CDF-NY BTO mentoring Program and internships; and
  • Membership to an extensive Beat the Odds alumni network.
How to Apply

We are accepting applications for the 2018-2019 Children's Defense Fund-New York Beat the Odds® Scholarship Program now until May 31st, 2018.

Apply Here:

2018 – 2019 CDF-NY Beat the Odds Scholarship

Program Application

Qualification Requirements

Students must be nominated or seek nomination for the New York Beat the Odds scholarship program by/from a teacher, counselor, caseworker or other adult who can speak to the following: his/her character, academic achievement, commitment to social justice issues/community, and the tremendous odds he/she beats every day.

For consideration in the New York Beat the Odds scholarship program, students must:

  1. Be a current high school sophomore who resides in or attends school within the five New York City boroughs;
  2. Has overcome significant obstacles such as, but not limited to, poverty, disability, homelessness or abuse;
  3. Has achieved/maintained a grade point average showing improvement or success; There is no GPA requirement;
  4. Following graduation, attend college/university;
  5. Demonstrate commitment to your community and/or social justice issues; and
  6. Attend mandatory workshops, meetings, interviews and award ceremony if selected.

All nominees must agree to share their story on camera. 

Meet Our Past Honorees
Djino Timotis Mamadou Ndiayer Norma Degante Rosemary Rodriguez
2017 2017 2017 2017
Windila Balbone Elham Chowdhury Shirleyka Hector Aesron Jeremiah
2017 2016 2016 2016
Sashagale Moore Ruben Suazo Tiffany Rivera Shainek Edmundson
2016  2016 2015 2015
Sarye Huggins Michael Borello Joshua Hazelwood Moke Hein
2015 2015 2015 2014
Luigji Camaj Demeara Torres Craig Phillip Benny Rodriguez
2014 2014 2014 2014
Ricki Rupine Raymond Perez Joshua Norris Jeffrey Ng
2012 2012 2012 2012
Abdul Zahid Ninaad Dave Linda Hyginus Javon Mullings
2012 2011 2011 2011
Jane Soliternik