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.

2016 CDF-NY Beat the Odds Winners

Congratulations to the 2016 CDF-NY Beat the Odds® Winners!

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.


Norwood, NY
Bronx High School of Science

“You will never be half the man I am. You, your mom, and your sisters…all of you are worth nothing.” These are the words Elham Chowdhury heard often from his father. Elham felt like nothing when these words haunted his thoughts. He didn’t think success was within his reach. In addition to being broken down mentally, Elham, his mother and sisters endured physical abuse. Not even guests and religious holidays could protect them from his father’s wrath; their only safety was found behind the barely-working lock of a bedroom door. On his tenth birthday, Elham’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. At the time, Elham thought it might be a blessing in disguise—he reasoned her sickness would deflate his father’s violence. Instead, it only heightened and intensified the abuse, which continued until his mother passed away in 2010. Elham began lashing out; he started fights with fellow students, disrupted classrooms, and was suspended from school. Yet, in a moment of clarity amidst all the anguish, he reflected on the memory of his mother, and what she would think of the way his life was unfolding. Ashamed, he took control of his life. He re-dedicated himself to his studies and discovered a passion for basketball. Soon he was performing at the top of his class. In June, he will be heading to college and pursuing his dream to spark change.

Watch Elham's video


Canarsie, NY
International High School at Lafayette

Shirleyka Hector was a 12 year old living in Port-au-Prince when the devastating earthquake struck Haiti in 2010. Seeking a new life, her family moved to New York. She didn’t feel welcomed by her relatives in her new home and when she started school, she was bullied for being an immigrant. Learning English was a great struggle for her. With no one to talk she turned to writing which helped Shirleyka learn English and gave her a sense of purpose. As her performance in school steadily improved, she began to tutor the students who had previously bullied her, forming friendships and believing in the power of forgiveness. While she was succeeding, people close to her were dismissive of her dreams, responding to her goal of becoming a doctor by suggesting she become a Home Health Aide instead. At first, this was incredibly disheartening. But her continued excellence in the classroom confirmed the attainability of her remarkable ambition. Now a student at a high school for immigrants, she performs at the top of her class with a 96 average. She still writes almost every day, and has become involved in two clubs that help other students who are struggling in school. After interning at a hospital last summer, she is determined to be an orthopedic surgeon.

Watch Shirleyka's video


Brownsville, NY
William Maxwell High School

With an absent father and a jobless single mother, Aesron Jeremiah endured a lifetime of homelessness. Along with his mother, brother and baby sister, he lived with his aunt for a few years before issues arose between the family members, causing them to leave. His family then lived in two different shelters – one in the Bronx, one in Brooklyn. When he first entered the shelter system at 13 he became shy and was bullied as a result. While in the shelter, Aesron found it difficult to have a normal life due to the shelter curfew. Once he was inside, he had to balance homework with taking care of his siblings. Struggling with these challenges, he went from achieving excellent grades to performing poorly. He had a hard time focusing in school and often fell asleep in class. Aesron’s mother noticed his struggles and had him join a program that helps homeless youth, Safe in My Brother’s Arms (S.I.M.B.A.). SIMBA provided him with tutoring and gave him the opportunity to take college classes for credit. While in the program, he started to come out of his shell and foster lasting friendships. His grades improved. S.I.M.B.A helped him get a summer job. With the money, he helped his mother with expenses like groceries. With a great support system, he feels he can achieve his dream of becoming an engineer.

Watch Aesron's video


Jamaica, NY
Queens Preparatory Academy

Sashagale Moore felt weird compared to other kids because she grew up having absence seizures, a condition that would render her briefly unaware of what was going on around her. She had to take medication to keep them in control. The seizures impacted her schooling and, in the fifth grade Sasha was placed in special education classes, which made her inferior to other kids. Attending therapy for her educational needs helped her overcome the feeling of not being an average teen. While dealing with her condition, as well as the hardship of being raised by a single mother working two jobs to support the Sasha and her sister she was also the victim of bullying for her physical size. She fell behind in school when her biggest inspiration, her grandmother, passed away. Ultimately, instead of drowning in her troubles, she focused on school, started to help others with their work and stood strong because it’s what her grandmother would’ve wanted.

Watch Sashagale's video


East Flatbush, NY
Leadership and Public Service High School

Ruben Suazo came to New York from Honduras with his mother when he was five. As an undocumented child, he lived most of his life in secrecy. He learned English, and his parents, who never progressed passed middle school in Honduras relied on him as an interpreter and navigator in a bewildering new country. He was bullied in school, but because of his status, he felt defenseless against the tormenting. To this day, Ruben worries about losing his home because of his parents’ unstable employment and undocumented status. To sustain himself, he has dived into his studies. He learned that education can give him the future he seeks as a lawyer. Earning an 85 average in high school, he started to come out of his shell. As a member of the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council, he helps to improve his school. He loves being a leader in student government, where he has become a mentor to younger students grappling with the obstacles he too has faced. For Ruben, education is his chance at liberty and fulfillment. He sees college as a starting point to put himself in a position to serve others. In succeeding, he found pride in himself.

Watch Ruben'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 juniors and 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, Young Advocate Leadership Training® (YALT®) and internships; and
  • Membership to an extensive Beat the Odds alumni network.
How to Apply

We are accepting applications for the 2017 Children's Defense Fund-New York Beat the Odds® scholarship now until November 11, 2016.

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 junior 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
Elham Chowdhury Shirleyka Hector Aesron Jeremiah Sashagale Moore
2016  2016  2016  2016
Ruben Suazo Tiffany Rivera Shainek Edmundson Sarye Huggins
 2016 2015 2015 2015
Michael Borello Joshua Hazelwood Moke Hein Luigji Camaj
2015 2015 2014 2014
Demeara Torres Craig Phillip Benny Rodriguez Ricki Rupine
2014 2014 2014 2012
Raymond Perez Joshua Norris Jeffrey Ng Abdul Zahid
2012 2012 2012 2012
Ninaad Dave Linda Hyginus Javon Mullings  Jane Soliternik
2011 2011 2011 2011