Getting Kids on Track to School Success

OTO Awards

Meet the 2016 Overcoming the Odds Awards Winners!

SA-33 OTO Winners outside

Darius Tomlinson, Senior, New Rochelle High School

Science has always been a part of Darius’ life.  He has wanted to be a doctor for as long as he can remember.  His love of science and ambition to become a doctor is a reflection of his deep commitment to helping people.

Darius is a young man who is wise beyond his years, open to new ideas, exploring new places and meeting new people.  His service trip to Nicaragua – his first time out of the United States and his first time on a plane – changed his perspective when he realized that as difficult as his own childhood circumstances were, living in a shelter for the homeless, the people he was helping faced many more difficult challenges.

He helped to build two houses for families in Nicaragua, whose homes were constructed of paper bags before the rebuilding effort.  When reflecting on this life-changing experience, Darius is especially proud of the fact that his group used the leftover cement from the construction to build patios for the homes, so the families would not have to step in and out of mud as they entered their new homes.

Darius is not afraid to reach for the stars.  He says “There are so many opportunities for kids like me it’s just that you have to seize them.”  He’s chosen to focus his energy on community service and the different clubs at New Rochelle High School, including Operation Smile and Ignite mentoring.
For Darius, the best thing about winning an OTO Award is a simple thing.  He says, “I’ve never gotten an award before … We never really know what other people are going through, and it’s great to be recognized.  This award may be my first award, but watch out, it won’t be the last!”

Angela Montgomery, Senior, The Summit School, Upper Nyack, NY

Adopted as an infant, Yonkers resident Angela has overcome both trauma and serious medical issues with determination and hard work.  Her health issues began at age seven, when she started to have seizures. At 12, it was discovered that she had a cyst on her brain.  Today, she sees a team of doctors and neurologists at Westchester Medical Center, who manage her condition.

When Angela was in middle school, she was assaulted by the brother of a trusted friend.  The resulting trauma she has experienced causes her temper to occasionally flare. In fact, her family initially sought help from Student Advocacy when Angela was suspended from school for fighting with other girls in in gym class who were teasing and bullying her about the attack.

What Angela needed was a fresh start, in the right school that would provide the support she needed.  Angela’s advocate helped her find the positive educational setting, but it’s been Angela who has built the support network at school that’s allowed her to thrive.  When asked what her favorite subject in school is, Angela does not hesitate.  It’s science. She’d like to go into the military and wants to be an anesthesiologist. She’d like to work at Westchester Medical Center, the facility that’s provided her with lifesaving medical care.

Angela is a certified volunteer EMT in Eastchester/Bronxville/Tuckahoe.  She drives the ambulance and loves it.  For the past four years, she’s held a part-time job at McDonalds in Yonkers and is their youngest Manager.  At school, she’s involved in the Student Council.

Dora Taylor, Senior, Lincoln High School, Yonkers

Dora is walking, talking proof that we can all overcome the odds if we believe.   One sentence that she included in her college application essays says it all: “It is not my intention to fail.”

When Dora was in 8th grade, she started getting severe headaches.  On Christmas Eve of 2011, she was rushed to the hospital, where she was finally diagnosed with a massive brain tumor and was put into a medically induced coma.  During one of the five surgeries she endured, she had a massive stroke that left her unable to walk, talk, or eat.  Fighting through a long and painful recovery at Blythedale Children’s Hospital, Dora was determined to relearn these basic daily activities as well as function and communicate on her own. She says she was inspired to push through her challenges by envisioning “the rainbow after the hurricane.”

Dora’s tumor left her with vision in only one eye.  Today, the Lincoln High School senior suffers from double vision and frequently wears an eye patch over the other eye.  The left side of her body is extremely weak, leaving her occasionally unsteady on her feet and with a left arm and hand “with a mind of their own.” Despite this, there is no stopping her as she moves through the hallways of Lincoln High School in Yonkers with style, grace and speed.

Jason Zanabria, Junior, Port Chester High School

Jason is a young man student who has not been defined by his diagnosis of autism, and who has in fact defied everyone’s expectations.  When he was younger, he had meltdowns or retreated to “hand play” to manage the stress of transitions.  During his elementary years, school was so difficult that Jason was placed in a restrictive out-of-district program.  Now, he has returned to Port Chester, his home school district, and is taking a full Regents preparatory course load while attending a special class program.  He’s matured into a sociable young man who is able to seek out the support of trusted adults when needed.

Jason does well with structured environments but when his structure is threatened for any reason, it can throw off his entire day. This year, he’s had to make more than his share of adjustments.  Jason is very creative, and he is giving voice to that creativity attending the Commercial Art Program at the BOCES Career Technical Center in Valhalla for half a day, every day.  He’s had to manage a new learning environment, getting on and off the bus and figuring out the BOCES campus.

Jason’s transformation has shown his fellow students that no matter what is put in front of you, with hard work and dedication, you can get through anything. His motto is to “Work hard and be respectful to family and friends.” He’s volunteered at the Carver Center in Port Chester and interned at the Port Chester High School’s administrative offices.  Jason is optimistic about all of the changes ahead, as he puts it, “new, great changes.”

What’s an OTO?

An “OTO” is our affectionate name for the Overcoming the Odds Award. (OTO rhymes with motto.) This unique awards program was created by Student Advocacy in 1996 and has been continued annually since then. Sixty remarkable young people have already been honored. Four honorees will be recognized at our OTO Awards Dinner on May 11th, 2017.

Purpose of the Awards

The most important purpose of the awards is to honor youth. When the awards are announced, most winners are surprised. Few have had any past experience when they felt successful and worthy of being honored. This experience changes that.

In addition, funds raised at the awards dinner support scholarships for OTO winners and the Overcoming the Odds project that provides educational advocacy services to help resolve the school problems of students who have significant problems which place them at-risk of school failure and/or dropping out.

During this remarkable awards ceremony, you will meet four outstanding young people from our own community who have overcome the odds and succeeded in school. Hear their inspiring personal stories and join us in honoring them.

For more information or to request an invitation, call 914-347-7039 x119 or email