Meet Melissa.

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Though she but little, she is fierce...

It's impossible to put all that was and continues to be special about Melissa into one page. She was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease, Cystinosis, at just two years old. Among many complications, her diagnosis led to her losing kidney function and she had her first transplant at nine years old from her mother, Joellen.

After losing kidney function once more, she received a second transplant. This time from a young woman, also named Melissa, who died tragically in a car accident. This second transplant allowed her to dance at her Mom and Stepdad's wedding, to start college without having to be on dialysis three times a week and to live as normal a life as possible for a few years. A few years until, sadly, that kidney also began to fail and Melissa went back on dialysis.

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Despite being connected to a machine three times a week to do the job of a healthy person's kidneys, Melissa was never deterred. Unable to secure a full-time job that would work around her medical needs, she went on to pursue a Master's Degree in Social Work from the State University of New York at Albany and used her education in any outlet she could find including internships and part-time jobs. Having spent much of her life in hospitals and with doctors, Melissa's dream was to be a patient advocate. She created her own path to fulfill that dream, helping family and friends navigate their own health care needs and journeys.

Though dialysis is a life-sustaining treatment, needed by those with kidney failure to stay alive, it comes with its own set of risks. After years of multiple treatments every week and a number of major health scares, Melissa passed away surrounded by close family and friends.

This scholarship is a way for those whose lives she touched to help ensure that her spirit, her courage and her passion for helping others all continue. By helping to "pay it forward" to a young student, from her high school (Schenectady High School), we are able to help Melissa live out her dream of being an advocate for those in need through helping the next generation of social workers, health workers and/or community leaders reach their educational goals.