04 Jun 2024

Papitto Opportunity Connection Invests $1.4 million in Rhode Island Students and Their Big Ideas

Josh Pereira


Classical High School Senior’s Peer-to-Peer Tutoring Idea Takes First place

Providence, Rhode Island – For the third straight year, the Papitto Opportunity Connection (POC) is listening and investing in young people in Rhode Island. Through the 2024 Transform Rhode Island Scholarship (TRIS)  POC announced tonight it is investing $1.4 million in Rhode Island High School students’ ideas to improve the lives of those who need it most in the Ocean State. Since TRIS was established in 2022, POC has invested more than $3.5 million in this program.

TRIS asks RI high school students to answer one question, If you had a million dollars to improve the lives of those who need it most in Rhode Island, how would you do it? This year’s winner is Classical High  School’s Sebastian Connolly. His winning idea is to create an inter-school tutoring program that would recruit students from Rhode Island high schools with the most resources/best educational outcomes to tutor their peers at underserved schools in the state. The Harvard-bound senior drew on his own experience tutoring students from Providence’s underserved communities at the Boys & Girls Club of Providence and saw first hand the impact tutoring had on these students. For his transformative idea, Sebastian will receive a $25,000 scholarship and will have a seat at the table as the Papitto Opportunity Connection (POC) invests $1 million to make his idea come to life.

“My senior year I started tutoring at Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School through the Boys and Girls Club,” said Sebastian. “I saw that for the students there, because they didn’t have the same tutoring infrastructure that exists at Classical, what I was doing made a lot more of a difference.”

“The Transform Rhode Island Scholarships will not only change the lives of these students, but also the communities in which they live and go to school,” said POC Founder Barbara Papitto. “The level of thought by all of these students is amazing, and there were so many incredible ideas to create real change here in our state, we invested an additional $300,000 in a 6-week pilot program to kickstart two other students’ ideas.”

Cranston West junior Zachary Jean-Philippe and Central Falls High senior Naomi Delgado Pedraza will each receive a $15,000 scholarship and POC will invest $150,000 in their ideas

Zachary’s big idea is Sweet Talkers, aimed at empowering children with speech and language impairments to learn to speak through baking. Merging speech therapy with hands-on activities, helps language development and confidence in a fun environment. gma

Other student finalists will also receive scholarships as a result of their transformative ideas. They include:


$10,000 Scholarship: Adrian Bautista, Junior, Providence, RI

BIG IDEA:  Adrian’s Big Idea is to create a traveling job center that provides resources and support to individuals experiencing homelessness.  

$10,000: Scholarship: Katelyn Santilli, Junior, La Salle Academy

BIG IDEA: Katelyn’s Big Idea is Grandma’s Kitchen, a program designed to educate youth about nutrition. Developing healthy eating habits early on, will improve health outcomes over a lifetime.


$5,000 Scholarship: Reyan Datta, Junior, Moses Brown School

BIG IDEA:  The junior’s big idea is to elevate digital literacy amongst underserved students. Giving young people access to develop tech skills will offer them opportunities in the digital economy.    


$5,000 Scholarship: Jason Lebrun, Senior, La Salle Academy

BIG IDEA:  EmpowerUp Entrepreneurship is a program for BIPOC communities designed to educate students about business, cultivate their creativity and enhance their entrepreneurial skills. Jason will attend Drexel University in the fall.


$5,000 Scholarship: Pummukau Harris, Freshman, The Met School

BIG IDEA: Pummukau’s Big Idea is to create community hubs across Rhode Island, called Narragansett Footprints, that celebrate the diversity and richness of Rhode Island’s cultural heritage.


$5,000 Scholarship: Caroline Kanaczet, Sophomore, St. Mary Academy -Bay View

BIG IDEA: To serve people most in need, Caroline’s Big Idea is to expand and provide basic resources and services at local, public libraries including adding washing machines and dryers, summer youth reading programs, health clinics, community gardens and more.


$5,000 Scholarship: Folajimi Olagundoye: Senior, Blackstone Valley Prep

BIG IDEA: Folajimi’s Big Idea is an app aimed to empower, promote confidence and provide a safe space for children who have medical conditions and anxiety. He will attend Northeastern University in the fall.


$5,000 Scholarship: Mariely Madera, Senior, Moses Brown School

BIG IDEA:  Mariely’s Big Idea is to create after-school extra curricular activities and weekend art classes for students who live in communities in need and often lack access to these programs. She will attend the University of Rhode Island in the fall.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                            

May 29, 2024              

Contact: Deb Weinreich, The Perry Group

401-580-3106; dweinreich@perrypublicrelations.com

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