The deep voice of longtime Seattle Mariners broadcaster Rick Rizzs echoed in the East Valley High School gym after seniors gathered for a graduation meeting Tuesday morning.
Rizzs wasn’t there to talk about the students’ big day, though. He spoke for a few minutes about Toys For Kids, the nonprofit he and former Mariners centerfielder Dave “Hendu” Henderson founded in 1995. Among its programs, Toys For Kids also administers a scholarship named for Henderson that recognizes outstanding high school seniors, and Rizzs told East Valley students there was a winner among them.
Brett Alston, a Toys For Kids board member, took the mic and called for her. “Emma Gruenberg — where’s Emma?” he asked, prompting a surprised Gruenberg to come down the bleachers and accept a giant cardboard check made out for $5,000. Henderson died in 2015 and his widow, Nancy Henderson, helped present his namesake scholarship award.
“Emma’s truly touched us because right off the page, you can see what a high-achieving young lady she is,” said Alston, managing partner at RedCloud Consulting Inc., which funded Gruenberg’s scholarship. “She has set her sights so high.”
Gruenberg is one of eight scholarship winners chosen for their 250- to 300-word, double-spaced essay on “How does continuing your education make you smile every day?”
Rizzs and others went to winners’ homes last year because students were learning from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He enjoys being back in schools to present the scholarship awards. He and the others will visit other schools in the next few days to share more good news.
Heather Jones, executive director of Toys For Kids, emails all 875 high school principals in Washington about the essay contest every year, then goes through all the submissions, removes any identifying information and assigns each essay a number before a committee selects winners. There were 75 entries this year, she said.
Tuesday was the second day in a row of good news about Gruenberg’s college career. On Monday, she learned she was accepted at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz. Gruenberg plans to major in forensic accounting. She maintains a 4.0 GPA, is a student board representative, a member of the volleyball and track teams, tutors a younger student and has completed more than 300 hours of community service.
“Most of those are from Miss East Valley and volunteering at community events, Children’s Village, and just anywhere I can help and make someone’s day better,” Gruenberg said in her essay of her community service hours. She was Miss East Valley in her freshman year, from 2018-19.
“She put everything into it, but that’s what she does,” dad Jeff Gruenberg said of her work — and there’s plenty of it — to win the crown.
Gruenberg had received a scholarship as Miss East Valley, but Tuesday’s award was a surprise.
“It was a little embarrassing at first, but it was still overall great considering the circumstances,” she said. Her English teacher gave her some extra time to work on her essay, which will be highlighted with the other scholarship winners at Toys For Kids’ annual fundraising gala Nov. 13.
Jeff and Becky Gruenberg already knew their daughter was getting the scholarship. They stood near the bleachers, just inside the gym doors, after arriving about 15 minutes earlier and meeting Rizzs, Alston and others with Toys For Kids.
“Day 1 of kindergarten, she was out waiting for the school bus and hasn’t had anything less than an ‘A’ since,” her dad said. And when she heard about the possibility of forensic accounting, she mapped out plans to aim her math skills in that direction, her mom said.
The couple’s four sons were grown when they adopted Emma. She was just days old when they first saw her in the hospital nursery, and it’s been love ever since. Sending her off to college will be especially hard for her dad, who was visibly emotional after the scholarship presentation.
“Dad’s gonna have a hard time — her taking off,” he said.