Service Announcements


For Planning Purposes Only
October 22, 2007
For More Information Contact:
Ed Shelleby
(202) 662-3628


WASHINGTON, D.C. – On October 25, the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) and its President, Marian Wright Edelman, will host the 2007 Beat the Odds Awards Dinner honoring five Washington, D.C., metropolitan-area high school seniors who have overcome tremendous adversity to demonstrate academic excellence and give back to their communities. Actress and comedienne Ali Wentworth and ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos will emcee the event. Singer N’Kenge will perform.

The event will be held at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium and will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 25, with a reception, followed by the dinner program and awards presentations. This year’s honorees include (full biographies below):

  • Kyle Corfman (Poolesville, MD) has managed to stay an exemplary student despite the loss of both his parents and being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
  • Cerstin Johnson (Washington, D.C.), whoafter her hometown in Louisiana was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, moved to Washington, D.C., and was separated from her family, yet became a model student at Duke Ellington School of the Arts.
  • Yah-Lahne E. Thompson (Fort Washington, MD) has beena dedicated student despite experiencing homelessness and being the sole caretaker of her mother who is afflicted with a chronic and debilitating disease.
  • Cyd Fortune Rinonos (Falls Church, VA), whose late father’s liver cancer treatment separated Cyd from her family and forced her to take on major caretaker responsibilities, still has remained an active and engaged student.
  • Neelma Z. Qureshi (Fairfax, VA)

The Beat the Odds program was initiated by the Children’s Defense Fund in 1990 to celebrate the positive potential of young people. CDF works with local education advocates to select and honor students who demonstrate academic excellence and have the strength and determination to “beat the odds.” These events send a clear signal that someone does care and understand what it takes to stay in school and do well while coping with adversity in their personal lives. Award recipients receive a substantial college scholarship, laptop computers, and other gifts to celebrate their success and promise. Since CDF’s inaugural Beat the Odds event in Los Angeles in 1990, CDF has awarded more than 350 scholarships to students across the United States.

The 2007 Beat the Odds Awards Dinner is underwritten by the Freddie Mac Foundation and made possible through the generous donations of Fannie Mae, Lehman Brothers, Laura and Richard Chasin, Judy and Peter Kovler, Ivanna and Alberto Omeechevarria, and Ali Wentworth and George Stephanopoulos.


CDF Beat the Odds Awards Dinner and Reception


Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium
1301 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C.


Thursday, October 25
Reception 6:30 p.m.
Photo Op/Press Availability 7:00 p.m.
Dinner 7:30 p.m.

Valet parking is available.

Media Note: Media interested in attending this event should contact Ed Shelleby at 202-662-3602 A mult-box will be provided. Throw is 50 ft. from press riser and 35 ft. for cut-away shots.


The Children’s Defense Fund’s Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.

Children’s Defense Fund

2007 Beat the Odds Scholarship Recipients’ Biographies

Kyle Corfman
Poolesville High School, Poolesville, MD

Kyle is an optimist whose positive outlook has sustained him through the toughest of times. Born in Olney, Maryland, he lived there with both parents until he was six. At that time his father, suffering from manic-depression, left the family but maintained contact with Kyle. Through counseling and his own personal strength, Kyle was able to deal with his parents’ subsequent divorce and his father’s progressive illness. When he was nine, Kyle and his mother moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. He missed his father deeply but managed to start a new life there. Because his mother worked long hours, he learned to be independent and often found himself cooking and cleaning out of necessity. Then in a tragic turn, Kyle’s mother died suddenly in a car accident on the Nebraska highway, and Kyle moved back to Maryland to live with his aunt and uncle. He started eighth grade where he immersed himself in his studies, excelled at sports, and found a valuable mentor in his lacrosse coach. During his sophomore year of high school, Kyle suffered another tragedy when his father took his own life. Despite this great loss, Kyle finished his sophomore year with a 3.85 GPA. That summer, after suffering severe stomach pains, Kyle was diagnosed with Crohns Disease. He takes medication to control the symptoms but still lives with chronic pain. Despite everything he has been through, Kyle remains an optimist who points to his town and all the people around him as his source of support and love.

Cerstin Johnson
Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Washington, D.C.

After Hurricane Katrina ravaged her hometown of Metairie, Louisiana, Cerstin began the most difficult journey of her young life. Separated from her mother and siblings, she relocated to live with relatives in Washington, D.C.—thousands of miles from home—where she enrolled in the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. With her outgoing personality and determined spirit, Cerstin initially made friends and excelled in her studies—even winning the prestigious Pen/Faulkner Writers in School Essay Contest. But she suffered a setback and realized that she needed to return home to reconnect with her loved ones. Eventually, after valuable time spent healing from the scars of Katrina with family and friends, Cerstin returned to D.C. and the Ellington School with a renewed work ethic and the will to succeed. An honor roll student, Cerstin is preparing for college by taking honors and AP classes. She is also a member of the Worship by Choice Gospel Ministries and Choir and participates in school and community plays. With her determination and loving, caring nature, Cerstin not only beat the odds, but serves as an inspiration to others to be all that they can be.

Yah-Lahne E. Thompson
Frederick Douglass High School, Fort Washington, MD

At the age of 17, Yah-Lahne knows a lot about perseverance and courage. She is the youngest of nine children, and the only one remaining at home. When she was eight, her father abandoned the family and her mother was diagnosed with a painful, chronic disease. As her mother’s disease progressed, she was unable to work, and the family’s financial situation deteriorated dramatically. In 2003 their house was damaged by Hurricane Isabel, and last year, after their home went into foreclosure, they were forced to put their belongings in storage and move into a Motel 6. Finally, this summer, Yah-Lahne and her mother have moved into a home they now are renting. Yah-Lahne is the sole caretaker of her mother and, because they do not own a car, she cannot run errands, go out with friends, or participate in extracurricular activities such as sports teams and academic clubs. Despite the burden she has had to shoulder this early in life, Yah-Lahne remains optimistic about her future and aspires to be a doctor. A dedicated and conscientious student who is respected by both her teachers and peers, Yah-Lahne continues to beat the odds every day.

Cyd Fortune Rinonos
J.E.B. Stuart High School, Falls Church, VA

In the winter of 2006, Cyd’s father was diagnosed with liver cancer, and her world turned upside down. Her family moved from Virginia to Tampa, Florida, so that her father could receive specialized treatment; but Cyd was unable to join them because she could not transfer her class credits. She lived with various family friends for several months before reuniting with her family who, by that time, had used up their savings living in a hotel while her father’s condition continued to deteriorate. The relocation caused major disruptions for Cyd and her siblings, forcing them to change schools five times during a three-month period. Cyd’s father passed away last October, and her family eventually made their way back to Virginia. Since returning, she has taken on many new responsibilities, including the care of her two younger sisters and much of the housework. Cyd has coped with the turmoil of the past two years and the devastating loss of her father by remaining an active and engaged student. She is involved in peer mediation, several extracurricular clubs, and writes for the school newspaper. To Cyd, beating the odds means overcoming hardship and surviving no matter how impossible it may seem.

Neelma Z. Qureshi
J.E.B. Stuart High School, Fairfax, VA