11th Grader Wins First Place at Bronx Rotary Club’s 2021 Essay Competition


Last week, 11th grader Jeleny Mendoza won first place in the Bronx Rotary Club’s 2021 Essay Writing Competition which was in honor of the organization’s founder, Bea Castiglia Catullo. Students were asked to write about how they’ve seen leadership and perseverance in their communities and within themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read Jeleny’s award-winning essay below…


The Benefit of Love: How My Neighborhood Changed Me by Jeleny Mendoza

This essay is in honor of Bea Castiglia Catullo who served her community. She helped those in need during tough times through her humanitarian work. She helped give millions a better life through being a nurse, building better places, and loving her community.

“I remember seeing the world shut off, my window was lonesome and pale. Not a single person in sight, and little by little my life felt like it was falling apart”. These were my grandmother’s first words after she recovered from the virus. She was able to finally speak and it was the only thing she could say with tears in her eyes. We only talked through the phone because we were restricted by the pandemic to even visit each other for my health, her well-being, and everyone else’s safety. I remember thinking to myself at that moment about the people who don’t have family members, who will never be able to touch or say hi to them ever again.

I finally realized the significance of kindness during these tough times as I saw outside in my neighborhood the joy and generosity many of my neighbors gave to each other. It’s not a surprise that the pandemic has left millions without jobs thus leaving them without income, resources, and most importantly tranquility from the uncertain. Although, seeing Mrs. Laura handing out boxes to all the people that were in need at the corner of Hunts Point and Bryant, Ms. Ivett knocking on our doors and asking us if we needed anything, handing out information about food banks and financial empowerment to the residents in our community. And how can I forget about my grandfather who handed every single person he knew an envelope with $50 for their necessities. My whole community chipped in. The owner at the corner store allowed for people to take a certain amount of items, go home, and pay whenever they could. For the last year or so, I was surrounded by incredibly kind individuals, families who gave each other a hand and thus made me reflect on the change I wanted to see in the world.

But change comes from within and I finally took a minute, realizing I hadn’t done enough, I set out to expand my services outside my home without actually leaving it – arriving at a beautiful internship that connected me to the Urban Health Clinic and programs such as the United Nations and National Honor Society that allowed me to see the change and make a difference through my actions. We made presentations on how to cope with the pandemic at the end of June 2020 and donated to an orphanage in The Dominican Republic. The most satisfying thing at the end of the day was seeing their smiles and the thought of them having new clothes – more instead of less which unfortunately is what many have experienced during these tough times.

Yes, it’s true I didn’t have much to give but sometimes there is nothing better than support or a helping hand, and like a wise man once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?”- Martin Luther King Jr.