LYNN — Shaneil Nelson, winner of The Friendly Knights of Saint Patrick $20,000 scholarship, lived in a homeless shelter in Milford when she first started high school at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute.
“Traveling from Milford to Lynn, I couldn’t get involved in a lot of school activities. It was depressing,” she said. “It taught me to be more appreciative.”
But the scholarship, one of the largest the group gives out, according to Chairman William McDonald, means Nelson’s hard work overcoming challenges at Lynn Tech paid off.
The annual dinner at the Hibernian Hall honored local community members and included Gov. Charlie Baker among its notable guests.
“You should all be enormously proud,” Baker said to the crowd. “You’re making hopes and dreams and possibility available tonight.”
“Oh my God,” Nelson said about the scholarship. “It means I can go to college.”
Nelson is already a certified nursing assistant who works at Phillips Manor Nursing Home in Lynn and will continue studying nursing at one of the colleges she has been accepted to, including University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and Boston College.
The Friendly Knights of Saint Patrick also gave away their Randazzo-Solimine Community Service Award, this year to George Markos, the local business owner of Brothers Deli.
“I respect the award and receiving it,” he said. “But I am no better than anyone else.”
“I don’t look forward to an award. I do [community service] because I want to do it, Lynn is a family to me.”
The Knights honored attorney Kirk Bransfield with their Irishman of the year award, which has spanned as a 66-year tradition and includes recipients state Senators William M. Bulger, Edward J. Clancy Jr., and current mayor Thomas McGee.
“This is a wonderful group that has really stood the test of time,” Bransfield said. “This is a huge honor for me because my father had been involved with the award. I know he’s looking down smiling somewhere.”
The night of festivities included food, drink and live music, but giving back to the community was paramount according to McDonald.
“We’re all proud to celebrate our Irish heritage,” he said. “But a huge part of this is giving back to the city of Lynn.”