NUTLEY, NJ – The Nutley Board of Education formally accepted a check for $100,000 from the ‘Melissa’s Hope Scholarship Foundation’ at the March 22, 2021 open public meeting.
The scholarship is named in honor of Nutley High School graduate Melissa Anne Centrell who lost her battle with dystonia in 2002. The annual scholarship, established in her name, will be awarded to students following career paths in nursing, medical sciences, and medical technical fields.
Melissa’s story is one of hope, courage, and commitment. While we were unable to clearly hear Dr. Glazer’s words, we could see that there were very few dry eyes present that evening. Melissa continues, and will continue, to touch lives and inspire others.
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As audio at that meeting was less than good, TAPinto Nutley obtained Nutley Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Julie Glazer’s introduction to the scholarship, and Melissa.
Dr. Glazer’s comments:
On tonight’s agenda you will see the formal acceptance of a check from the Melissa’s Hope Scholarship Foundation for $100,000 to endow an annual scholarship for students pursuing careers in nursing, medical sciences or a medical technical field. In 2014, the foundation expanded its mission to provide grants for special needs children and their families, as well.
This very generous donation is a tribute to Melissa Centrella, a Nutley High School graduate, who lived a life of courage and love battling for 20 years with the disease dystonia before her passing on in 2002. Dystonia is a progressive, painful, neurological disorder, a movement disorder in which a person’s muscles contract uncontrollably. The contraction causes the affected body part to twist involuntarily, resulting in repetitive movements or abnormal postures. Dystonia can affect one muscle, a muscle group, or the entire body.
As a child, Melissa was like every young girl—she was cheerful, she loved her parents, and she loved to dance. Melissa lived with the constant pain of dystonia for 18 years. As the years passed, Melissa’s life became more and more constrained. She was eventually confined to a wheelchair and then bedridden. Melissa passed away from complications of this disorder.
This is not the first I’ve heard of Melissa, her spirit, or her attitude of gratitude. Since arriving in Nutley five years ago, I have heard of Melissa through her friend and our BOE trustee Sal Balsamo. Despite Melissa’s extraordinary challenges, I’ve heard amazing stories of her meeting Rosie O’Donnell, Celine Dion, and actors Kirk and Candace Cameron who became true friends of Melissa and her family. But mostly, I’ve heard Sal miss his friend who despite her dire circumstances sounds loving, giving, and funny.
Melissa was typical in every way, but physically limited. Because disabilities were not yet well understood or accepted properly, she and her family and friends had to battle every day. She would always tell her mother to tell people, "I graduated with high honors" because she felt people thought because of her handicap that she was intellectually challenged. People would talk slowly, loud or baby-talk to her and she despised that. Staring was another thing that often happened and she would feel self-conscious at first, but later accepted that also. Sal has shared quotes with me written about Melissa from a variety of perspectives, and I not only admire her advocacy, but her willingness to work to teach others, and to help others, so no other family had to suffer the way hers did.
Many in her position would have given up, but not Melissa. In 1990 Melissa helped her mother establish the NJ Chapter for Dystonia to help find a cure and better treatments for dystonia. Melissa raised money, collected items, and through her actions became an inspiration to so many. Melissa also endured many painful medical procedures to assess and attempt to treat dystonia. Melissa believed she was put on Earth for a reason, that God had a plan for her. That reason was to be a part of the mission to find a cure for dystonia, and with Melissa’s passing she has also left her mission to find an answer for Dystonia her family and friends. Because of their hard work and determination, Melissa will never be forgotten. Her memory will live on in all of those she touched, and continues to touch through this endowment. In Melissa’s short time here on Earth she displayed an uncommon grace and dignity which we all should emulate. Sal, thank you for sharing your friend with us, and for continuing to work with her family and friends to leave this legacy. I would like to now introduce you all to Melissa….
(video presentation, attached)
I believe Melissa’s mother Claire is with us tonight on the call.
From all of us, and from our grateful students, thank you for sharing your daughter with us, and for leaving us with such a beautiful legacy and tribute.
The video shown at the BOE meeting is attached.
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