Local High School Students Awarded Scholarships for Advocacy and Support of Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation

July 14, 2023

NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – Ten New Jersey high school students were awarded scholarships from the Sharing Network Foundation for their passion and dedication to raising awareness of organ and tissue donation and transplantation. The Class of 2023 graduates were presented with their scholarship awards at NJ Sharing Network’s headquarters in New Providence. The Sharing Network Foundation’s scholarships are made possible thanks to several of the organization’s family and partner funds: 

  • Hearts for Emma Partner Fund – created in celebration of Emma Rothman’s life-saving heart transplant to support high school education and donation advocacy efforts.
  • Jim Rhatican Scholarship Fund – created in memory of Jim Rhatican, a NJ Sharing Network Volunteer, liver transplant recipient and retired teacher and coach of 35 years.
  • Missy’s Miracle Scholarship Fund – created in celebration of the 30th Anniversary of Missy Rodriguez’s life-saving liver transplant to follow her passion as a college counselor through scholarships for high school students.
  • Riley’s Path – created in memory of organ donor Riley Kogen to provide financial assistance to transplant patients in times of crisis, and to award scholarships to high school students and advocacy heroes.

 The 2023 scholarship recipients are: 

  • Sophia Fliegler of Mendham, NJ (2023 graduate of Randolph High School) received a scholarship from Hearts for Emma Partner Fund. Sophia’s heart failed when she was only two weeks old. She was given a second chance to live life to its fullest thanks to a successful heart transplant. She has made it a priority to honor the memory of her heart donor by advocating for NJ Sharing Network’s mission. Sophia has participated in transplant reunions, online discussion forums, social media chats, and the 5K Celebration of Life. She plans to attend the County College of Morris in the fall. “I like to think that I am living a life for both myself and my donor, as my donor never had the opportunity to do so,” said Sophia. “I hope that my donor is looking down and happy with the life ‘we’ are living.
  • Emily Blomkvist of Asbury, NJ (2023 graduate of North Hunterdon High School) received a scholarship from Hearts for Emma Partner Fund. Emily’s father received a life-saving heart transplant six years ago. Since then, her two greatest missions have been promoting the importance of organ and tissue donation and the need for blood donation. Emily has been recognized for her tireless efforts to promote events at North Hunterdon High School and in her local community. She plans to attend Lehigh University in the fall. “I will never forget that we were at my cousin’s sixth birthday party when my dad received a call from the hospital telling him to get there as soon as possible because they had found a heart for his transplant,” said Emily.
  • Caitlin Knorr of Berkeley Heights, NJ (2023 graduate of Governor Livingston High School) received a scholarship from the Jim Rhatican Scholarship Fund. Caitlin was born with a Hemangioendothelioma of the liver, a rare and deadly disease. She received a life-saving liver transplant when she was just five weeks old, and a second liver transplant three weeks before her second birthday. Caitlin’s experiences inspired her, her mother, and her sister to become certified volunteers for NJ Sharing Network. She has shared her story at community events and encouraged her classmates to register as organ and tissue donors. Caitlin plans to attend the University of Arizona in the fall. “I feel blessed, and my life experiences are why I have chosen to pursue my studies in the medical field,” said Caitlin. “I will continue to be a huge advocate for organ and tissue donation for the remainder of my life. I want to give hope to those who are waiting for a life-saving transplant.”
  • Maxwell Moore of West Milford, NJ (2023 graduate of West Milford High School) received a scholarship from the Jim Rhatican Scholarship Fund. Maxwell had just turned 15 years old when he developed severe shortness of breath while on vacation with his family. He was hospitalized and diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. His condition continued to become more critical until he received a double-lung transplant in July 2020. Since his near-death experience, Maxwell has been passionate about advocating for organ and tissue donation, including leading educational presentations for the Safe Driver’s Club and the Driver’s Education class. Maxwell plans to attend Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts in the fall. “As I go off to college, I hope to bring awareness to my fellow classmates about the importance of organ and tissue donation,” said Maxwell. “I will proudly share my story with anyone who wishes to listen.”
  • Amelia Rowniewski of Wallington, NJ (2023 graduate of Applied Tech High School) received a scholarship from the Missy’s Miracle Scholarship Fund. Amelia was just two years old when she had severe cold symptoms and was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. Unfortunately, Amelia’s condition worsened as her kidneys began to fail and she struggled to breathe. Her life was saved thanks to a successful kidney transplant in 2008. Amelia honors the memory of her donor by volunteering for NJ Sharing Network and the American Kidney Fund. She has met with members of Congress to advocate for policies to support kidney patients and their families and has shared her personal story to encourage others to register as organ and tissue donors. Amelia plans to attend American University in Washington D.C. in the fall. “Thanks to my donor hero, I have been able to attend concerts, make close friends, and be accepted to college,” said Amelia. “Most fulfilling of all, I’ve been able to meet and mentor younger people with organ transplants and help them get through their everyday struggles.
  • Veronica Sutkowski of Carteret, NJ (2023 graduate of East Brunswick Charter School) received a scholarship from the Missy’s Miracle Scholarship Fund. Veronica was in second grade when her mother’s life was saved thanks to a successful liver transplant. This emotional experience helped Veronica understand the powerful impact of organ and tissue donation and inspired her to volunteer for NJ Sharing Network. She even proudly wore NJ Sharing Network’s Miss Pumps mascot costume to bring energy and fun to community events and activities. Veronica plans to attend Rutgers University in the fall. “My mother’s hard road to transplant allowed me to realize that things are not as easy as they may seem and there will be challenges in life to get to the good parts,” said Veronica. “I aspire to be in the medical field and possibly help with transplant recipients like my mother one day.”
  • Nina D’Apolito of Wall, NJ (2023 graduate of Wall High School) received a scholarship from the Riley’s Path Fund. As a member of Wall High School’s Donate Life Club, Nina took the lead in developing new and creative ways to raise awareness about organ and tissue donation. Nina played a key role in creating a “Celebration of Life Garden” in the school courtyard. She, along with her peers, painted and decorated “Donate Life” rocks that were used in a scavenger hunt and then placed along the flowerbeds of the garden and in the school’s media center. Nina also promoted the club’s efforts on social media to raise additional awareness. Nina plans to attend the University of Vermont in the fall. “Everyone deserves a chance to experience the highest possible quality of life,” said Nina. “I am proud to be a registered organ and tissue donor. It gives me peace to know that when I pass away, I can potentially save up to eight lives.”
  • Jacob Grabell of Bridgewater, NJ (2023 graduate of Bridgewater Raritan High School) received a scholarship from the Riley’s Path Fund. Last year, Jacob’s family suffered a terrible tragedy when his father died suddenly from a heart attack. Jacob has shown great resiliency and maturity by supporting his mother and younger siblings while also volunteering his time to make a positive impact on the lives of others. Jacob has served as an assistant Hebrew school teacher and as a coach in youth basketball and soccer. He also coordinated a bone marrow drive during the Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center Community Day. Jacob plans to attend Rutgers University in the fall. “My father made sure that my siblings and I understood the importance of having a lasting impact on the community,” said Jacob. “He was also a registered organ donor, in hopes of saving others. He put others before himself and this ever-lasting lesson is one of many things I will take with me from our time together.”
  • Charbel Hachem of Franklin, NJ (2023 graduate of Franklin High School) received a scholarship from the Riley’s Path Fund. Charbel will never forget the many times that he and his family rushed to the hospital to visit his father during his battle with cancer. After many surgeries and procedures, the only hope for Charbel’s father was an organ transplant. One of their family members donated part of their liver and pancreas to save his life. This inspired Charbel to help educate his classmates about the importance of registering as an organ and tissue donor. He also began volunteering with the American Red Cross to support local communities. Charbel plans to attend Concordia University in Canada in the fall. “It is my ambition to one day work in a hospital, performing the very same innovative surgeries that saved my father,” said Charbel.
  • Noah Kuzloski of Point Pleasant Beach, NJ (2023 graduate of Christian Brothers Academy) received a scholarship from the Riley’s Path Fund. In July 2022, Noah’s family experienced an unthinkable tragedy when his aunt and 3-year-old cousin passed away following a motor vehicle accident. Noah’s cousin saved the lives of three young boys through the miracle of organ and tissue donation. Since that moment, Noah has shared his story with friends and classmates to encourage them to register as organ and tissue donors. He plans to attend SUNY Maritime College in the fall. “Organ and tissue donation has greatly impacted my life because it brought me peace knowing that my cousin was able to save the lives of others,” said Noah. “It also gave me a way to deal with the pain of losing her. She is a hero.”

 The Sharing Network Foundation’s scholarship program provides an opportunity to recognize and award graduating high school seniors whose lives have been touched by organ and tissue donation and transplantation. Applicants were measured on academic achievement, community and volunteer efforts, extracurricular activities and advocacy for organ and tissue donation. Since the scholarship program’s inception in 2011, more than $120,000 has been awarded to 55 dedicated student advocates. 

“We are grateful for the generous support of our partner funds and their ongoing commitment to rewarding students who share a commitment to our life-saving mission,” said Amanda Tibok, Executive Director, Sharing Network Foundation. “We know that all of our scholarship awardees will continue as strong leaders educating others about donation and transplantation throughout their college years and beyond.” 

Front Row – (Left-to-right) The Sharing Network Foundation’s 2023 scholarship recipients Noah Kuzloski of Point Pleasant Beach, Maxwell Moore of West Milford, Jacob Grabell of Bridgewater, Veronica Sutkowski of Carteret, Emily Blomkvist of Asbury, Caitlin Knorr of Berkeley Heights, Sophia Fliegler of Mendham, and Amelia Rowniewski of Wallington. Not pictured are Charbel Hachem of Franklin and Nina D’Apolito of Wall. (Back Row – Standing behind students – Left-to-right) Julie Nelson and Jay Rhatican of the Jim Rhatican Scholarship Fund, Mitch Kogen of the Riley’s Path Fund, Nancie Rothman of the Hearts for Emma Partner Fund, and Missy Rodriguez of the Missy’s Miracle Scholarship Fund. Photo Courtesy of NJ Sharing Network