Honoring Legacy, Igniting Futures: First Literacy Announces 2023-2024 Tom Brunnick Memorial Scholarship Recipient

Written by Kaitlyn Nolan, Marketing and Communications Intern, First Literacy


Valentina (center) with two members of the Brunnick Family.

The pursuit of knowledge knows no age limit, and scholarships designed specifically for adult learners play a pivotal role in breaking barriers and creating opportunities for those who seek to further their education later in life.  

In 2022, the Tom Brunnick Memorial Scholarship was created in memory of Tom Brunnick, who immigrated to the United States in 1921, escaping poverty and civil war in his home country of Ireland in search of a better life. He worked tirelessly to pursue his own dreams and was able to raise five children and buy a house in his adopted home city of Boston.  

Decades later Tom Brunnick’s family still has roots in the Boston area. One of Tom Brunnick’s grandsons noted that his grandfather was fortunate to be part of a community that supported one another. Through the Tom Brunnick Memorial Scholarship, the Brunnick family hopes recipients can experience being part of a supportive community, as well.   

First Literacy is the only organization in Massachusetts that awards scholarships to adult students based on nominations from community-based Adult Basic Education programs. A substantial number of First Literacy scholars are newcomers to the United States, and First Literacy is doing important work to help these determined individuals swiftly transition into independent, productive, and content members of the community with just a modicum of external help.   


Tom Brunnick

Like many of the individuals who receive scholarships from First Literacy, Tom Brunnick ventured to Boston in pursuit of building a family and a new life. Yet, he too, relied on the kindness and support of others to lay the foundation for his own success. 

A heartfelt tribute, the Tom Brunnick Memorial Scholarship is the first and only First Literacy Scholarship that provides recipients with an opportunity to pursue full-time education without being hindered by the prohibitive costs.  

“The Tom Brunnick Memorial Scholarship is unique in that it provides a full scholarship whereas our other scholarships are partial scholarships,” said Terry Witherell, First Literacy Executive Director. “We hope this is the first of many named scholarships that will allow First Literacy to offer even more support to adult learners.”  

Valentina is the 2023-2024 recipient of the Tom Brunnick Memorial Scholarship. When Valentina was awarded the Tom Brunnick Memorial Scholarship, it served as a turning point in her life.  

Originally from Colombia, Valentina came to the United States filled with hope and determination. Unfortunately, she was met with a series of personal challenges, including learning a new language and battling health issues stemming from a congenital condition causing bone tumors in her legs and a recent diagnosis of a benign brain tumor affecting her hormones. Due to these ongoing health struggles, Valentina found herself in a difficult and trying situation. The medications she was prescribed to manage her health conditions came with strong side effects and led to a chemical imbalance, causing depression, and compounding her health struggles. These adversities made it exceptionally tough for her to both maintain employment and finance her education.  

When Valentina was nominated by Catholic Charities of Boston, she seized the opportunity to apply for a First Literacy Scholarship, recognizing that it was her lifeline to continue her academic pursuits and secure a brighter future.  

“Now that I have this big financial help, I can slow down in my job, take more classes and focus more on my education; also, this allowed me to be in a better place health wise,” said Valentina. 

Valentina is currently working as a home health aide. The additional funds she was awarded through the Brunnick Memorial Scholarship have allowed her to increase her class load at Bunker Hill Community College. Her goal is to finish her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2024 and pursue her masters in behavior analysis. Her dream is to one day work with children who have special needs. 

Each year, First Literacy awards scholarships to recent graduates of Massachusetts Adult Basic Education (ABE) or English language programs who are continuing to vocational training or higher education. Since the Scholarship Program began in 1990, First Literacy has awarded nearly 600 scholarships to adult learners throughout Massachusetts.  

If you are interested in establishing a special named scholarship in honor of a loved one contact Terry Witherell, First Literacy Executive Director, at 

December 14, 2023

Sign Up to Receive First Literacy Emails

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

First Literacy will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.