Allison Prete did a lot of community service throughout her middle and high school career. None was as meaningful, however, as what the recent Seaford High School graduate did on March 20.
The first to awaken at 4 a.m. to a fire that quickly spread through her family’s home, Prete helped her mother and two pets to safety and alerted the next-door neighbors before the raging flames spread.
Just three months before the prom and graduation, her home was gone.
The resilient 18-year-old went on to graduate in June in the top five of her class, and next week she will head to the University of Tampa on a $16,000 Presidential Scholarship.
On Aug. 7, the Seaford Chamber of Commerce awarded her its annual Community Service scholarship at a celebratory dinner for her family at Cardoon Mediterranean Grill in Seaford.
“She’s my hero in every sense of the word,” said Allison’s mother, Susan Schneller.
Allison has been volunteering since middle school, initially at a veterans’ home in Suffolk County. Throughout middle and high school, she was part of the Seaford Peanut Butter and Jelly Gang, a group that made sandwiches for the poor. In high school she was a freshman mentor and a Best Buddie, helping students with special needs get more involved in high school. She served food at the Mary Brennan Interfaith Nutrition Network soup kitchen in Hempstead.
The fire wasn’t the first family tragedy she endured. When she was a freshman at Seaford High, a great-grandfather died of brain cancer, and an aunt who was living with her and her mother died of lung cancer, less than a month apart. Just prior to that, her then 18-month-old brother was diagnosed with retinoblastoma. He had to have an eye removed, and then underwent a year of chemotherapy and radiation. He is now doing well.
In a May 2017 college essay, Allison summed up her resilience. “I have reason to believe that if it wasn’t for these events taking place in my life, I would not be as driven as I am today,” she wrote. “I had a choice: the easy way out or the path to perseverance. Using my struggles as motivation, I managed to turn a negative situation into a positive one, transforming the success story of my brother into one of my own.”
She went on to excel in high school. As a member of the Drama Club in her freshman year, she appeared in a production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” As a member of the Seaford marching band’s color guard, she performed at football games and in parades, and she sang in the high school chorus all four years. As a junior and senior, she tutored two middle-school students in math, helping one raise his average from 69 to an 89. She also volunteered for the Key Club, and was recognized for exemplary service on the Shared Decision Making Committee. She was inducted into the National Honor Society her senior year.
A neighbor who submitted a letter of reference for her Honor Society induction, wrote that Prete would make the school proud. “In a time when people seem to be questioning the drive and determination of high school students, Allison is proof that our future is in good hands,” the neighbor wrote.
Meanwhile, Prete has held a part-time job at a local diner in Wantagh since she was 16.
The fire that destroyed her family’s Jackson Avenue home started in a living room light fixture directly below Allison’s room. It quickly spread upstairs into her closet, and she awoke to see smoke filling her room.
It was no surprise when, soon after the fire, the Seaford community offered its help. The Knights of Columbus took in the family and their pets temporarily. Seaford Bagels donated food and coffee, and the family was given a $500 gift card from nearby Cara Mia Restaurant.
Since the fire, Allison, her mother and their pets have been living on a houseboat in a nearby marina. Next week she will move into her dorm at college, where she will study forensic science, in the hopes of someday working for the FBI.
In the essay she submitted for the Seaford Chamber of Commerce scholarship, Prete wrote, “All in all, taking part in community service has made me the person I am today, and will continue to shape me into the admirable person I hope to one day become.”