Six recent high school graduates from the Niagara region will be honored with Distinguished Student Scholarships at the annual Niagara County Community College Foundation Scholarship Gala on Saturday at the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute.  

The awards are the most prestigious scholarship offered by the NCCC Foundation to incoming freshman. They provide two years of tuition-free education to deserving students. The individuals were selected based on their academic excellence, service to the community and loyalty to Niagara County.

The money eases the way for high-achieving students who might otherwise struggle to pay for college.

“Thank you for making my dream possible,” said Niagara-Wheatfield graduate Russell Apfel ahead of the ceremony.

Another recipient, Leslie Archibald, a Lockport High School graduate, said, “I want to thank everyone for putting in all of the effort and time it takes to raise this money that allows me to attend college. I don’t think you realize how much of a tremendous weight you have lifted off my shoulders.”

The other winners are: Zachary Congi of Niagara-Wheatfield High School, Abigail Ostolski of Starpoint High School, Jake Toczek of Starpoint High School and Gwendolyn Schuler of Newfane High School. 

Also being honored at the gala will be the 2017 NCCC Distinguished Alumni Award winners Phyllis Floro and Jennifer Pitarresi. 

After graduating from NCCC, Floro went on to receive her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University at Buffalo. She currently serves as the director of student engagement at the University at Buffalo. 

Pitarresi graduated from NCCC in 1988 and went on to receive her Bachelor’s degree from SUNY Brockport and her Juris Doctor from the University at Buffalo Law School. She is currently the director of risk and insurance services for Niagara County.  

NCCC Foundation Board Members Jimmy Cancemi, Geri Sdao and Ron Winkley have been named the honorary co-chairs of the gala.

The NCCC Foundation has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships to deserving students since its inception in 1987.

A full list of available scholarships for the 2017-18 school year can be found at

In addition to private and corporate donations, scholarship opportunities are also supported by the gala, the single largest fundraiser for student scholarships. 

Oct. 21's event will take place at the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute and tickets are $125 per person. NCCC culinary and pastry arts students will prepare dishes from around the world. To purchase tickets visit the NCCC Foundation website at or call the foundation office a 614-5910.