Saturday, December 9, 2023

Incoming Ashley High freshman wins $125,000 scholarship for getting vaccinated

Vania Martinez is the first recipient of the $125,000 “Cash 4 College” scholarship. All vaccinated North Carolinians, ages 12 to 17, are eligible to win the three remaining prizes. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy News & Observer and NCDPS)

WILMINGTON –– Vania Martinez didn’t know she would win a $125,000 scholarship when she rolled up her sleeve in May. She didn’t even know that was a possibility.

The Wilmington native did know that her loved one Lala –– a woman she considered a grandmother –– had gotten sick from Covid-19 and passed away. She was getting vaccinated for her.

“I never had a grandmother because unfortunately my mom lost her mom at a young age,” Martinez said. “She was basically like my grandmother. We would take her out to eat on Sundays, go to church, do fun stuff, and then when we lost her, it was just really, really sad.”

That same month, Martinez, 14, got her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine –– the only one currently approved for her age. She first went to the vaccine clinic in Independence Mall and then got her second shot at New Hanover County’s Health and Human Services building.

Late last week, Martinez was relaxing on a seemingly normal summer day. She recently finished eighth grade at Myrtle Grove Middle and was lounging around, watching Netflix. Then her mother got a phone call from the state. They told her Martinez’s name was drawn Friday morning as the winner of the “Cash 4 College Drawing.”

“I was like, ‘What?’ I won, ‘the what?’ I was like, ‘You’re lying,’” Martinez said. “I looked it up and it was real.”

After learning about her win, Martinez’s name was kept under wraps while she filled out the necessary paperwork. Once complete, she was invited to Monday’s press conference in Raleigh. North Carolina’s top health official Mandy Cohen announced Martinez as the first of four winners during the livestreamed event.

“Getting a vaccine is the best way to protect your family and your community from Covid-19, and that’s exactly what our ‘Cash 4 College’ winner did,” Cohen said with Martinez beside her. “I know she’s going to inspire other young people to do the same.”

Gov. Roy Cooper thanked Martinez for making the decision to get the shot with her mom after researching the safety of the vaccine.

An incoming freshman at Ashley High, Martinez said she had recently taken on a summer job at a restaurant to start saving for college. She is striving to attend N.C. State and study either criminal law or engineering.

Martinez is part of the 12% of fully vaccinated youth, ages 12 to 17, in North Carolina. She is also part of the 7% of fully vaccinated North Carolinians who are Hispanic. The state has often struggled but lately found success in reaching the minority group. In March Hispanic North Carolinians made up less than 3% of the vaccinated population.

Cooper said Monday he was deeply concerned about the lack of vaccinations in the Latino community. For Martinez she said her personal decision to get her shot was easy, but it is rare amongst her friends to be vaccinated.

Still, she is passing on the message: “Just get the vaccine. Get this over with so this pandemic can stop all over the world.”

Shelly Wyramon, of Winston-Salem, was awarded the main prize of $1 million. She is a mother of three and an educator with 20 years of experience.

Wyramon explained at the governor’s press conference she opted to receive the Covid-19 vaccine to protect her and her husband’s aging parents from the virus.

“I wanted to be able to get back to spending precious time with those that I love, and those children that I love to teach,” Wyramon said.

There are three more drawings for $1 million between now and Aug. 4, as well as three more chances for vaccinated youth, ages 12 to 17, to win the $125,000 scholarship.

Anyone who is vaccinated is automatically entered into the drawings. Those vaccinated after June 10, the day the program was announced, will have their name submitted twice, doubling their chances.

To ensure a fair chance in the next drawing, check the Covid-19 Vaccine Portal to add or update contact information. Those who can’t be reached are ineligible for the prize.

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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at or on Twitter @alexsands_

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