Students with autism can apply for scholarship honoring Queens teen Avonte Oquendo

Avonte Oquendo
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Applications are open for the sixth annual Avonte Oquendo Memorial Scholarship, named in honor of the 14-year-old Rego Park boy with autism who tragically drowned in the East River in 2013.

Thousands took part in an exhaustive 4 ½-month search in western Queens after the boy vanished from the Riverview School in Long Island City and his body was discovered on the shore of College Point.

The scholarship awards $5,000 to a student on the autism spectrum or a student who has a close family member with autism to pursue higher education, a cause important to the Oquendo family and the law firm that represented them.

“I am honored that our firm has been able to make a difference in the lives of autistic students and their families who are seeking higher education opportunities for the past five years and we are proud to offer the scholarships for a sixth year at a time where financial and educational support for this community is more important than ever,” Attorney David Perecman said. “As an attorney, I’ve seen how higher education is not only a tool for personal development, but also a means by which individuals can better their own lives and ultimately shape and improve their communities. We want higher education opportunities to be accessible to all students, especially those who have autism and often face obstacles that other students do not.”

The attorneys at The Perecman Firm, who represented the boy’s mother Vanessa Fontaine in a wrongful death lawsuit, have committed to keeping his story alive and helping students pursue higher education, something many in the autism community are not able to make possible due to the rising costs of higher education.

Perecman also helped the family pass Avonte’s Law, city legislation aimed to increase the safety of autistic students who are more likely to wander from schools. Under the law, which passed in 2014, the Department of Education is required to evaluate the need for alarms on exterior doors at elementary schools and schools serving students with autism and other special needs.

A federal initiative, “Kevin and Avonte’s Law,” was passed in 2018 to provide resources to assist in planning, establishing and operating programs to prevent wandering and to locate missing individuals with forms of dementia or developmental disabilities such as autism.

“The outpouring support that followed Avonte’s tragic passing has deeply touched me and the other members of our firm,” Perecman said. “We are proud to honor Avonte’s life by providing support to students and families affected by autism through the annual Avonte Oquendo Memorial Scholarship.”

To be eligible for the scholarship, applicants must be currently enrolled in or accepted to an accredited higher-level education institution for an undergraduate or postgraduate program; complete an application form; provide academic transcripts; and submit an essay on one of three provided prompts. For more information, visit the firm’s website here.

This story first appeared on our sister publication qns.com.