Pine Island Chamber of Commerce
Black Dirt Scholarship

Our 2022 Award Winners

Our thanks to Sondra Hall for providing photos and bios.

Amelia Brown
Amelia will be attending Princeton University where she will pursue a course of study in neuroscience. She is a member of National Honor Society and served as the Student Government Treasurer, 2018-2022. She has worked as an unpaid intern at Hackensack University Medical Center and as a lifeguard at American Pools and WVHS where she was CPR/AED Certified. She has been awarded the Sojourner Truth Award for Creative Arts (2021), the University of Rochester Frederick B Douglass & Susan B. Anthony Award (2021), the Rotary Youth Leadership Award (2021), the Director’s Award for Orchestra (2021), and the Orlowski Science Research Scholarship Junior Award (2021). Amelia is an acclaimed violinist. She is the Concertmaster and Co-founder of the Hudson Valley Ebony Strings and a self-employed violin teacher offering private lessons to students. In her essay she revealed that “When I give to the community, whether that is through playing my violin at the library or volunteering at a local soup kitchen, I am giving people the gift of comfort and happiness. When someone receives that gift, they are, in return, giving me a renewed sense of satisfaction and contentment with life.”


Erin Eicher
Erin will be attending the School of Visual Arts, where she plans to achieve a BFA in Cartooning. She took a three-week college program during July of 2021, a live figure drawing class, a class about traditional inking, and a class about comic making. By the end of the three weeks she had created and printed an eight-page graphic novel, available to read on her website, As a senior project she created a 12-page graphic novel that she self-published in June 2022. Erin is a member of the National Honor Society and has tutored students after school and at lunch. She also is a member of The Meister Singers and Treble Choir, which caroled around the Village of Warwick during the winter, performed as a pre-show to the Radio City Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, and with the Yale Whiffenpoofs, the world’s oldest a cappella group. Erin has received the RIT Innovation and Creativity Award, the PTA Reflections Award-States Level, and the Lower Hudson Region Media Arts Teachers Association President’s Award. In her essay, Erin wrote “Following graduation from the School of Visual Arts, my career goal is to write and illustrate graphic novels that benefit my community. I want to make a change in young kids’ lives parallel to how my favorite author/illustrators have helped me grow as a person, as well as an artist. I aspire to be the-incentive of young budding artists, just as my favorite authors have for me. Additionally, I believe that successful people recognize that the unique similarities and differences in community members benefit the entire community, and I intend for my artwork to be inclusive.”


Sophia de Jong
Sophia will be pursuing a course of study in physical therapy at SUNY Oneonta. As an honor roll student at S.S. Seward High School, Sophia was active in a wide variety of programs. She was a contender for the HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth) New York East Leadership program, President’s Award recipient, High School and Middle School Student Council. Meanwhile she helped to organize dinners, thrift shop, events at Sugar Loaf Church; she recorded basketball games and the Game Book at school sports events; she helped set up and cleaned up after school dances, Tricky tray events, and school games; and she helped teachers in class. In her essay, Sophia wrote “To me, success is all determined by character. Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Steven Spielberg as well as countless others should be recognized for their ability to realize that they were more than the life they were given. That the bad days did not define them. Their passion and character drove them to take the extra steps in life and tum themselves and their passions into something greater. Each of these individuals had a vision and stopped at nothing to make that dream come true. I believe that even if they failed at creating something they still tried which is beyond admirable. This is one of the biggest aspects of a successful individual. This is the best lesson to take away from individuals like them as they are proof of just what success is.”

About The Black Dirt Scholarship

Warwick’s agricultural roots are firmly based in Pine Island’s Black Dirt Region. The region provides food for residents, restaurants, and retailers throughout the Hudson Valley, New York City, and nearby communities. Today this region is known as one of the richest farmlands in all of North America.

The Black Dirt Scholarship Fund was created in 2012 from a portion of the proceeds of the annual Black Dirt Feast. It is presented by the Pine Island Chamber of Commerce, honoring students seeking to further their education in three areas:
1) Agricultural/Equestrian Studies
2) Culinary Arts/Hospitality Industry
3) Arts and Sciences

Applicants must demonstrate a commitment to and involvement in community volunteer service or community work experience.

Since its founding in 1961, the mission of the Pine Island Chamber of Commerce has been to promote prosperity in the business community, support and enhance the uniqueness of the region, and to enrich the lives of all residents through community spirit and cooperation.

Scholarship Funding
The Black Dirt Scholarship is funded with a portion of the proceeds from the Black Dirt Feast.

Application Deadline has passed for 2022
Scholarships are announced in May, awarded in June. Watch for 2023 dates & application.

2021 Award Winners

L. Blumenberg-PICOC-Scholarship-Winner-2021

Luke Blumenberg
Luke will be attending Binghamton University where he plans to study biology in a pre-med program. He is a member of National Honor Society and served as an after-school tutor for other students. He achieved several top honors at S.S. Seward Institute, including the Sportsmanship Award, the President’s Education Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement, the Triple C Award (Commitment, Courage, Character), the Spartan of Excellence Award for Academic Achievement, and the National Outdoor Achievement Award. Luke is an Eagle Scout and learned the importance and value of community service during his time in scouting. This commitment played a critical role in his decision to teach kids how to play basketball during his time at CYO programs, devoting time to the Sugar Loaf Methodist Church Roast Beef Dinner programs, and his eventual Eagle Scout Project decision to build a Gaga Ball Pit for youth summer recreation at the Warwick Town Park in Pine Island.

K. Smith-PICOC-Scholarship-Winner-2021

Katherine Smith
Katherine will be attending the University of Notre Dame, studying neuroscience and behavior, in order to eventually learn more about the brain and neurological diseases. She believes that there is an abundance of neurological disorders and diseases that have much less recognition by researchers and medical professionals when it comes to treatment. Katherine was the captain of the cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track teams; a two-time track NY State Champion; a two-time track All-American; and an MVP in both indoor and outdoor track teams. Meanwhile, she sustained a summa cum laude academic achievement during all four years of high school. She is a leader both inside and outside of the classroom, according to many of her teachers. Katherine was active in the sports medicine club and was a Junior EMS Ambulance Corps member, where she served for four years. As a member of the National Honor Society, she also volunteered to tutor other students. Katherine will be graduating with a Biliteracy Seal from New York State for Spanish.

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Paul Gagliano
Paul will be pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Manhattan School of Music. He has been active in Wire Choir, CTEC Awards night, playing for the local camp for children of migrant workers, and community performances at the Albert Wisner Library. Paul has also participated in Fiddle Frenzy, a program that encourages musicians to volunteer their time for the community by playing for local nursing homes, senior centers, supermarkets, malls and festivals. He has also served as Vice President of the acclaimed Meistersingers during his senior year, and is he is also an accomplished violinist. He has been accepted into All-County, and Area All- State for both violin and voice for three years. Paul is a member of the National Honor Society, the NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) during 2020, and is a Pine Island Chamber Youth Achievement Award recipient. He has also earned High Honor Role status for the last four years.

2020 Award Winners


Natalie Daigle
Natalie will be attending Vassar College where she plans to study biology and will also play on the women’s lacrosse team. She intends to pursue a research based biological science career and eventually enter the medical field. Natalie is highly involved in a variety of extracurricular activities. She is a member of the National Honors Society, Mu Alpha Theta (the Math honors Society), Model UN, and Sports Medicine Club. She served as a student liaison for the Board of Education, is on the Varsity Lacrosse team and is currently the team captain where she has helped to mentor her younger teammates and always displays a positive attitude. She was selected as a Warwick Valley Historical Society student member and serves as a member of their board and is also highly involved in community service. She initiated the Boxes for Soldiers of the Hudson Valley Donation Drive in the Warwick High School last year. She also co-organized the Recycle for Sight Program district, and community-wide.


Vidar Hageman
Vidar will be attending the University of Virginia where he plans to study philosophy. Vidar stands up and speaks out for what he believes in but is also willing to learn from what he doesn’t know or necessarily agree with. He doesn’t shy away from leadership opportunities as is evidenced in his position as Senior Class President and Varsity Basketball Captain. Time and time again, Vidar has shown his dedication to helping inspire change in his community. Whether he is giving his time to support a candidate he believes in, preparing a garden for the Warwick Garden Tour for an elderly neighbor, assisting at our local farm market, singing with the choir at all of the community service gigs and tree lightings around Warwick, Pine Island, and Greenwood Lake, volunteering as a member of the Pine Island Fire Department, or writing a well-researched letter to the editor expressing his concerns about using artificial turf, Vidar does it with a smile, confidence and with heart.


Varin Sawh
Varin will be attending Macaulay Honors College at CUNY where he plans to study mechanical engineering. Varin is involved in a variety of extracurricular activities. He is Warwick chapter President of Mu Alpha Theta, where he has contributed by assisting math teachers with extra help, provided individualized peer tutoring, and assisted with various fund raisers, he helps to conduct the bi-weekly meetings, comes up with community service projects and assists with selecting new members. Varin is Captain of OCAL (Orange County Academic League), a member of Model UN, National Honor Society, Math Team, Debate Club, Spanish Club, and Aerospace Engineering Club. He has also volunteered with Warwick Valley Community Kitchen, the Black Dirt Feast and at the Albert Wisner Public Library.