May 21, 2008
Nirva Vital counts many blessings that came from Catholic education
BY MELISSA MCNALLY
NEWARK — A resident of the state’s largest city for almost 23 years, Nirva Vital, 25, is a shining example of what urban scholarships can provide for hardworking, disciplined young students.
Vital’s life offers one case history that demonstrates how students can flourish, with the help of much-need financial support, in an urban Catholic school environment (see above related story). It also illustrates how such a long-term “investment” in education can yield dividends for the community, as Vital currently is pursuing a successful career in healthcare research.
While in elementary school at Our Lady Help of Christians, East Orange, Vital and her two siblings, Cathiana and Perkens, received assistance from the archdiocesan Scholarship Fund for Inner-City Children (SFIC).
“The principal of Our Lady Help of Christians School talked to my parents and said that we were good candidates for the scholarship,” Vital recalled. “I am not sure if I would be where I am today without the SFIC.”
Vital’s parents immigrated from Haiti and her father, a cab driver, and mother, a nurses’ assis¬tant, worked tirelessly to give their children a better life and a solid education. “Our parents always wanted the best from us. Education was always number one.”
After elementary school, Vital attended Marylawn of the Oranges Academy, South Orange, where she graduated in 2000 as valedictorian. She received a full scholarship at Montclair State University where she majored in biology. After receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in 2004, she received a master’s degree in public health from State University of New York. Vital’s sister recently completed her sophomore year at Syracuse University and her brother finished his first year at Montclair State.
While in elementary school, Vital was teased by the other children in the neighborhood for attending Catholic school. “Other kids would taunt me and my friends because we wore uni she
said. “They asked if we thought we were better than they were. My friends in Catholic school pushed each other to succeed.”
The benefits of a Catholic education far outweighed the schoolyard taunts, according to Vital. “Catholic school set a foundation of morals and values. Being Catholic, I also learned more about my faith. All the students were one-on-one with teachers because of the smaller classes. There were only 20-30 students per teacher. You felt safe, like you were in a family,” she recalled.
Currently a research assistant in geriatric studies at The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), Vital always had an inter¬est in healthcare within the urban community. While in high school, she worked at Newark Beth Israel Hospital and her plans for the future include further exploration of inner-city healthcare.
“Right now, I take part in qualitative research on the geriatric population. We assess their needs and study dental care, osteoporosis and HIV in the elderly community,” Vital explained. “I would like to continue my education with another master’s degree.”
Maternal/child health is her preferred area of study. “Promoting health and pre-natal care in urban communities is of great interest to me. If you are living a healthy lifestyle, you will have a healthy child,” Vital said.
Having a scholarship program, such as an urban scholarship bill, will provide students with opportunities that they may not receive otherwise. Vital is grateful for all the SFIC and a Catholic education has provided her family.
“I appreciate the SFIC helping my family,” she said. “When you help someone else, it gives them the motivation to succeed. Later, the efforts will pay off and the students will become upright citizens. Hopefully, the scholarships will set a precedent for a positive cycle as opposed to negative one.”