PINELLAS PARK – Five students accepted scholarships from the Public Service Education Foundation of Pinellas Park and the local Korean War Veterans Association, receiving a collective total of $6,700 toward their respective colleges of choice.
Awarded for their commitment to public service were Eric Tong who attended St. Petersburg High School; Adam Kerr, who attended Northeast High School, and Pinellas Park High School graduates Henris Zaimaj, Mallory Leary and Mark Griffin. The students were honored during the Pinellas Park City Council meeting June 14.
The foundation awards Pinellas Park students who want to pursue a career in public service. A group of city of Pinellas Park employees founded the organization 10 years ago and have since awarded about $100,000 in scholarships. Funds are raised through the Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association, payroll contributions from city employees and donations from local businesses.
Eric Tong also received $1,700 from the Suncoast Chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association. Representatives from the association, presenting the scholarship during the Pinellas Park council meeting June 14, said it was
the first year they have been unanimous in their decision. To earn the association’s scholarship, he had to write an essay about the Korean War.
“I feel honored and very thankful about receiving this,” Tong said.
Tong, an International Baccalaureate student at St. Petersburg High School, was the school’s valedictorian and a finalist for a National Merit Scholarship. Last year, he traveled to Argentina after earning the National Spanish Exam Junior Travel Award. He was captain of the debate team and president of the Student Government Association.
He’ll be attending Columbia University to study engineering as a C. Prescott Davis scholar. This summer he’ll be working the Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County through a Bank of America internship program.
The Tong family lives in Pinellas Park. Eric’s parents, Zhen and Ying Tong, moved from China to the United States so Zhen could attend graduate school, eventually relocating to the Tampa Bay area.
Henris Zaimaj was the valedictorian for Pinellas Park High School this year. He was a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society. He participated in teen court for the Sixth Judicial Circuit, volunteering his time at the Criminal Justice Center on 49th Street to help other teenagers “straighten out life,” he said.
“It fit what I wanted to do later on in life. It’s a great way to help the community and an opportunity to learn,” he said.
Zaimaj plans to study political science at Georgetown University and wants to eventually earn his law degree.
He also was a runner-up for the Barnes Scholarship, awarded through the Tampa Bay Times Fund.
Zaimaj and his parents, Deti and Bardha, live in Largo. The family moved from Albania to the United States when Henris was 6, living first in Dallas, Texas, before moving to Tampa Bay.
Henris said visiting his family who live in Albania, Italy and Greece during the summer gave him an international perspective.
“You’re more in touch with the global community and how they perceive global issues,” he said.
At Pinellas Park High, Mallory Leary was president of the school’s LiveFree! Substance Above Prevention Coalition and a member of the Spanish Honor Society, Law Honor Society and the National Honor Society.
She was captain of either the school’s junior varsity or varsity volleyball team for all four years she played and was named MVP. Leary, a 6-foot-1-inch middle hitter, played Pinellas Heat Elite Volleyball and also ran track at the high school. She said she liked the sport for the bonding it fostered.
“It’s a good team sport, not an individual sport,” she said.
She was recruited to play volleyball at Piedmont College, a division III school where she was awarded three academic scholarships. She wants to study forensic science and become a crime scene investigator.
After receiving her scholarship at Pinellas Park City Hall, Leary and her parents, Mike and Kelli, were driving to the Piedmont College campus in Georgia so Mallory could pick out her classes for fall semester.
“She was all excited,” Kelli Leary said, recalling the moment her daughter found out she had won the Public Service Education Foundation scholarship.
The Leary family lives in the Lealman area.
Adam Kerr also played football at Northeast High School. He plans to study computer science at Methodist University in Fayetteville, N.C.
Mark Griffin was a part of the National Honor Society, Law Honor Society and Science Honor Society at Pinellas Park High School. Since his sophomore year, he volunteered with the teen court program.
Griffin said he was most passionate about sports, running track and playing offensive line for his school football team. A Bright Future scholar, Griffin said he was most proud 3.9 overall GPA earned during his high school career.
He will be attending University of South Florida in the fall, and will try out for the football team. Griffin plans to study chemistry at USF, one step in goal of becoming a pharmaicist.
He and his family live in Clearwater.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Tracy Griffin said of the scholarship her son received. “It’s a great support for Pinellas Park kids based on public service.”