Lifting Up Westchester Announces Winners of Seventh Annual Student Essay Contest

Lifting Up Westchester (LUW), a nonprofit agency providing life-changing support to people who have lost their housing or are struggling to meet other basic needs, announces the winners of its Seventh Annual Student Essay Contest. Open to all 7th through 12th grade students attending school in Westchester County, students were invited to learn about LUW’s programs and write a fictional story about an individual or family who benefitted from one of those programs. Called “Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes,” this year’s essay contest looked to dispel some of the myths and stereotypes associated with the men, women, and children LUW serves.   

The essay contest was established in 2017 in memory of Beth Massey Rubens, a lifelong resident of Westchester and a teacher, tutor, and mentor who had a love for language arts. 

“Individuals or families who experience homelessness are often associated with stereotypes and prejudices that perpetuate misconceptions,” said Anahaita Kotval, CEO of Lifting Up Westchester. “Misinformation is extremely problematic. It contributes to stigmatization of people who are already marginalized and impacts the resources we, as a society, are willing to devote to help these members of our community get back on their feet. By inviting our students to spend time and ‘walk in someone else’s shoes,’ we hope to dispel some of these myths that have stubbornly remained part of America’s collective consciousness.” 

A panel of 45 judges reviewed the essays – submitted from schools all across Westchester – to select the ultimate winners. First, second, and third place cash prizes were awarded in each of the three grade groups: 7th and 8th grades, 9th and 10th grades, and 11th and 12th grades.  Winners were honored at an Awards Luncheon on April 14th at Buon Amici Italian restaurant in White Plains.  The Awards Luncheon was generously underwritten by Salvatore and Ritchie D’Errico, owners of the D’Errico Jewelry stores in Scarsdale and Mt. Kisco and loyal supporters of LUW’s youth programs.

Local winners of the 2024 Lifting Up Westchester Student Essay Contest include:

7th and 8th Grades: 1st Place – Stephanie Collins, Eastchester Middle School

9th and 10th Grades: 1st Place – Sonali Browning, Rye Neck High School

11th and 12th Grades: 1st Place – Ella Grann, Rye Neck High School; 2nd Place – Isabella Vembenil, The Ursuline School; and 3rd Place – Sara Hanna, Harrison High School.

Founded 45 years ago, Lifting Up Westchester is a 501(c)3 nonprofit providing life-changing support to people who have lost their housing or are struggling to meet other basic needs. Each year, the organization works with over 3,000 men, women, and children experiencing homelessness, hunger, and extreme poverty to build a more secure future for themselves and their families. 

For more information about Lifting Up Westchester, visit