Hempstead Born, Hempstead Bred
Money dictates where we choose to continue our education. Hempstead's best don't want it to be that way.
Story and photo by Tyler Leidy
On April 11, a committee comprised of Hempstead residents known as Hempstead for Hofstra/Hofstra for Hempstead hosted its 45th annual scholarship dinner, which raises money to help approximately one to three Hempstead high school graduates attend Hofstra University, depending on the funds raised. The meal aims to unite the Hempstead community with the flower-filled campus of Hofstra University that resides within the town.
The theme of ‘One Hempstead’ is echoed throughout the entire event.
“I’m Hempstead born and Hempstead bred and when I die I’ll be Hempstead dead,” said the mayor of the Incorporated Village of Hempstead, Don Ryan, to thunderous cheers ringing through Hofstra’s main dining hall.
“Every time I attend this dinner I feel that I’m back in the roots of Hempstead,” said Angelica Garcia a current senior at Hofstra University.
Garcia is not just a student, but also a recipient of the scholarship that the dinner provides for Hempstead High School graduates. She graduated from Hempstead High School in 2015 and then came to Hofstra to further her education.
“It’s a constant struggle to graduate from Hempstead,” said Garcia. In an article published by the New York Times, Hempstead’s graduation rate in 2016 was at 48 percent, one of the lowest in New York that year.
“[The scholarship] is going to help people in Hempstead looking to go to school, and it’s just good for the area,” said Garcia.
Freshmen almost exclusively receive the scholarship, but Garcia was a rare case.
“I didn’t know about the scholarship until after my freshman year. So when I knew [about it] I felt I should apply. I actually gave a speech at the dinner in 2016, and then applied for the scholarship,’ explained Garcia.
She was accepted as one of the recipients and received financial help for an entire school year starting in the fall of 2017.
“I’m just one of many kids that were helped by this great program,” said Garcia.
The event doubles down on the blue-collar community it aims to celebrate. Not only do all the proceeds go to a fund that helps Hempstead High School graduates attend Hofstra, but the dinner also acknowledges community legends and heroes.
“I grew up admiring some of the people that the dinner honors,” said Garcia.
Every year the Hempstead for Hofstra committee chooses people they feel make a real difference in the community. These outstanding citizens are given the “Unispan Award,” which symbolizes how much Hofstra and the community care about the good deeds these individuals do day in and day out.
“The honorees range from police officers, to clergymen, to people that work in the village,” said Alex Lamagna, one of the Hofstra-appointed liaisons to the event.
The event is designed to honor men and women who make a real difference in the community and help the well-being of Hempstead. The proceeds raised are the best example of how much the community cares.
“Last year  we raised about $70,000 [for the fund],” said Lamagna, which was a new high for the event.
The dinner is the only event held by the committee, yet it raises tens of thousands of dollars.
“We used to be happy to raise $8,000 for the fund… now we raise [upwards] of 60,000… It gives you a warm feeling in your stomach,” said master of ceremonies George Sandas.
Sandas is the head of “Parks and Recreation” for the Village of Hempstead and has served on the Hempstead for Hofstra committee for over 15 years. He is currently the chair of the committee.
During his speech, Hofstra University president Stuart Rabinowitz joked, “…from here on out I’m giving George Sandas tenure as the head of the committee,” which was met with a big laugh from Sandas.
“The program raises money for a fund that pays tuition for students who can’t fully afford it… it’s pretty awesome,” said Sandas.
Sandas was given the unique opportunity of giving his brother, and fire chief Frederick Sandas a Unispan Award this year.
Along with Sandas’ brother, the dinner honored seven others who stood out in their community. Malcolm Byrd, a local pastor, Shirley Cunningham, an internet crossing guard sensation, Mateo Flores, a Nassau County employee, Omuso D. George, a former military member, Evelyn Miller-Suber, another local pastor, Angel Perez, director of fine arts in the Hempstead School District, and Lisa Smith, a retired correctional officer.
Ginny Greenberg, another Hofstra liaison for the event, feels the dinner is so much more than just a fundraiser.
“The Unispan Awards symbolize the community’s bond… like how the Unispan connects North and South Campus, these awards connect Hofstra to the community. It honors those who deserve to be honored,” said Greenberg.
While other schools in the area like Molloy College, Adelphi University and LIU Post offer different scholarships; none are quite as community-driven as Hofstra’s.
“Forty-five years ago, some businessmen got together and felt that Hofstra should have more of a Hempstead presence,” said Sandas.
The committee felt the need for the community to be closer to the local college. This began a yearly tradition that now sends multiple Hempstead graduates to a fantastic secondary school.
“This dinner has been around for forty-five years, let’s make it forty-five thousand,” exclaimed Rabinowitz to conclude his speech.
Hofstra University may seem like a diamond in the rough to most, but it is merely an extension of the hardworking town it resides in. Its roots are planted deeper than most flowers that bloom right here on campus.