Abel Espinoza has a chance to follow his older brother into GateKey Scholar greatness.
The Cartersville High sophomore has been named the first recipient of the Howard Hinesley Founder's Scholarship, the name the Cartersville Schools Foundation gave to an existing GateKey scholarship in June to honor the former superintendent who brought the program with him from Florida when he came to Cartersville in 2005.
Hinesley and his wife, Susan, Superintendent Dr. Marc Feuerbach and foundation President Lisa Bell and board members Jay Choate and school board President Kelley Dial gathered Friday at the Cartersville Country Club to recognize Abel, who was accompanied by his mother, Esther, and his brother, Andy, considered the poster child for the GateKey program.
"This is not about Andy today," Hinesley said. "This is about Abel. Abel, I want you to know it is about you, and all we ask is that you just do the best you can. That's all we asked of Andy, and he did it, and you do what you want to do. You do your thing."
Hinesley also said he and the foundation board "wanted you to know that we're very proud of you."
"You wouldn't be here if you hadn't made the effort already," he said. "We said that to Andy many times that he just blew us away, and you have the same opportunity."
Abel, who was selected as a GateKey Scholar last spring, said he was "speechless" when he found out he was the first recipient of the award.
"It really inspired me to work even harder in school," he said. "I'm going to study every day for each test, and I was just really speechless when I was presented this selection. I almost cried, too, because I was just so happy. It's all thanks to my mom and my brother for the support that they've given me through the years."
It means a lot to Abel that the scholarship was named for someone who's special to his family.
"Dr. Hinesley, he's like a powerhouse for our family," he said. "He empowers us to do good in life and never give up."
Bell said Dial spoke to her after the last foundation board meeting about doing "something special to recognize what Dr. Hinesley's done in bringing this program here," which resulted in the scholarship being named for him.
Then when Hinesley was told who the inaugural recipient was, he said he "asked Lisa if there was some kind of special way we could recognize Abel, for several reasons."
"He's doing really well, and we're very proud of Andy, and we wanted [Abel] to know, though, that this is really about him, and we wanted to do something special for him," he said.
Bell created a perpetual plaque, which will hang in the central office board room, that will include the name of every Founder's Scholarship recipient as well as a smaller plaque to be given to each winner.
"What it is is taking a current GateKey student who comes from a place that they will really understand what the program is for and take full advantage of it, and because of the relationship that he already has with your family, we thought, well, of course, Abel's the most perfect student to be the first one recognized as the Howard Hinesley Founder's Scholar," she said.
Bell showed Abel his name on the first plate on the perpetual plaque and then presented his plaque to him.
"You've seen us in action," she said. "You know what we can do, and we just want to make sure that you understand you've got the exact same opportunity that Andy had, and you just find you your thing, and we're going to help you get there."
She also gave a "big shoutout to mom" for doing an "amazing job with her boys."
"She's got some incredible kids, and I think they have the hearts that they do and the drive that they do and everything because they come from such a great place," she said. "They've got a good role model."
Ms. Espinoza gave the credit to "the one upstairs" and said it's "my job to make this generation good for a lot of people."
"It's my duty," she said. "I learned that from my mom. My mom was a teacher. I just do my best, doing my job as a mother and guiding my boys."
She also thanked Hinesley and the foundation board for "helping my kids — first Andy and now Abel" pursue a their dreams of a college education.
To wind up the presentation, Hinesley gave Abel and Ms. Espinoza each a card with some cash in it and told each of them to take the other one shopping to "buy something special."
"Susan and I both feel honored that this first one is in your name," he told Abel. "We appreciate you, and we hope this little bit will indicate how much Susan and I appreciate what you have done and how proud we are of you."
Abel gave Hinesley a hug.
Andy, who graduated from the accelerated nursing program at Georgia State University and now works as an ICU nurse at Emory Hospital, said he knew "from the beginning" if he could get his first year of college paid for, "I knew you guys could supply the fuel, the motivation for me to just keep moving forward."
"I try to teach Abel that lesson, too, just keep moving forward, have everybody on your team," he said. "I've never done anything by myself. Thank you for everything, for pushing us and being there."
Abel, who turns 16 next month, said he wants to attend Georgia State like his brother, but he's planning to go to law school.
"I find going into law very interesting," he said. I want to be a lawyer when I grow up. I want to help people, mostly. I really want to help people. I feel like I can connect with those people with any problems they have, and I just want to talk to them about it and just help them."
The scholar said he began thinking about a law career at the end of his freshman year.
"[Mom] got me interested into being into law because she said she went to law school [in Mexico before moving to the United States in 1991], and she says I have a lawyer personality," he said. "I didn't think I did, but she says I do. I'm looking forward to graduating and going to law school with the support of my mom and my brother."
Abel said his brother is "of course" his hero and is a "really big inspiration to me."
"I remember being a little kid and just seeing him really stick to his education, and that really inspires me," he said. "I'm going to stick to my education, and my mom and him are going to help me through it, and I don't want to ever give up. I want to keep moving forward."