A year ago this week, Jonathan and Michael Manta’s lives were turned completely upside down. Their home near Charles Park in Howard Beach was devastated by Hurricane Sandy. They were forced out of their home for several weeks. A neighbor of theirs died in her house.
“It was really traumatic for them,” the boys’ father Constantin Manta said.
Because of the cost their parents had to endure to rebuild their home after the storm, the brothers were unable to attend the summer camps dedicated to their passions — chess for 8-year-old Jonathan and mathematics and physics for 10-year-old Michael.
Enter the Michael Perelstein Memorial Scholarship Fund Discover Your Passion competition. The brothers, students at the Speyer Legacy School in Manhattan who have won a number of awards already, decided to apply for the scholarship and see what would happen.
For people born in the 21st century, the boys have stunning resumes. At the age of 7, Jonathan Manta became the New York State chess champion. Michael has the ability to solve a Rubik’s Cube in just seconds.
Last week at New York University, the boys were awarded the scholarship — a total of $3,500 to split between them, which Constantin Manta said would go to pay for lessons and training that they missed out on because of the family’s post-Sandy financial situation.
“It gives them an opportunity to continue their passions,” said Manta.
Liz Perelstein, founder of the scholarship, thought it up as a way to honor her late husband, Michael, a Columbia Business School professor, who died in March 2012 in a bicycle accident, only a few years after he quit the finance career he hated to follow his passion.
“It took him 50 years to do what he wanted to do,” Perelstein said of her husband. “I wanted the scholarship to become special and something that reflected him. Children shouldn’t have to wait until they’re 60 to follow their passions.
Perelstein said she was impressed by the Manta brothers, noting Jonathan’s ability to play chess blindfolded and Michael’s Rubik’s Cube expertise.
“These are signs of kids who want to know everything they could possibly know,” she explained.
Financial need was not a factor in the decision, Perelstein said, but she noted that the fact that the Mantas were affected academically and financially by Hurricane Sandy was not lost on the judges.