Triton College’s gay-straight alliance student group, Common Ground, and Oak Park-River Forest High School’s A Place for All received the 2017 Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association (OPALGA) Founders Award at this year’s annual scholarship fundraising gala. The gala took place at the Oak Park Carleton Hotel on Saturday, Nov. 18.
Common Ground faculty advisor Dr. Michael Rosanova says he is proud of accomplishments that members of the group have achieved because of the broad range of students that Triton educates.
“The irony is that the vast majority of LGBT support services have concentrated on four-year colleges and large universities rather than two-year community colleges like Triton where the need is greatest and the results are likely to have the greatest impact,” Dr. Rosanova said. “I am glad that OPALGA has chosen to honor the unique contribution and the true significance of Triton’s Common Ground.”
The OPALGA was founded in 1989 in order to encourage institutional change and to promote the community life of both LGBT neighbors and non-LGBT friends and allies in the Oak Park area. The OPALGA Scholarship Program has provided financial support to LGBT youth, LGBT allies, and to the children of LGBT families since 2012. Applicants for the OPALGA scholarship have come from high schools such as Oak Park-River Forest High School, Triton College, other colleges and professional training programs, including educational institutions with no formal support for LGBT students.
Triton College nursing student Emily Mason is among this year’s recipients of an OPALGA scholarship. Mason, a Proviso West Graduate, was selected to receive the scholarship after writing an essay focusing on the struggles she encountered in gaining acceptance from her family as a member of the LGBT community. Mason says the support she received from Triton College, particularly from members of Common Ground, helped her find success and happiness in both her academic and personal life.
“It gave me the opportunity to socialize with more individuals beyond the classroom, and it gave me confidence to help people understand that as individuals, your voice is everything,” Mason said. “There’s no such thing as wrong, so the best thing is to speak out, be verbal, be aware, and be positive in the community.”
Since 1997, OPALGA has awarded the OPAL (Oak Park Area Leadership) award to individuals and organizations that are considered worthy of recognition by OPALGA for their work in the community. In 2017, OPALGA changed the name of the award to the ‘OPALGA Founders Award in memory of Mel Wilson’ in order to honor the work of distinguished architect and LGBT activist Mel Wilson, who passed away earlier this year.
The theme for the Nov. 18 scholarship fundraiser is “Knowledge is Power”. Triton College’s Common Ground and Oak Park-River Forest High School’s A Place for All have served as pioneering gay-straight alliances which provide a safe space for LGBT students and non-LGBT friends to socialize, participate in community service projects, and experience the support and optimism that will help them realize their full potential. This year’s ‘OPALGA Founders Award in memory of Mel Wilson’ recognizes and applauds their empowerment of our youth.
1) (L-R) Common Ground faculty advisor Michael Rosanova, director of Student Services Johnny Urbina, Common Ground (formerly Triton Gay Straight Alliance) Tuni Mikli.
2) Triton College student Emily Mason, Bellwood, was chosen to receive an OPALGA scholarship.