Local high school actress wins Petito scholarship

Spirit of the arts to continue in BBP through foundation’s award

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The Gabby Petito Foundation awarded their first annual scholarship to Bayport-Blue Point Class of 2022 graduate Katherine LaFountain for $1,000.

Nichole Schmidt, mother of Gabby Petito and president of the foundation, said that the graduating student chosen for the scholarship would be an individual who “embodied Gabby’s spirit through a love for the arts. We decided on this based on our recent tragedy, and Gabby’s free spirit and love for all things art.”

The Bayport-Blue Point School District graciously worked with Schmidt and the foundation in helping select the perfect candidate for its inaugural bestowment.

“We were more than honored and proud to award Katherine LaFountain this year’s scholarship,” said Schmidt, adding, “Katherine is highly skilled at performing arts and dance.  Her prowess and love for her art exemplified the qualities of a young graduate who will excel at their craft.”

The foundation plans to continue to award an annual scholarship to a Bayport-Blue-Point High School  student, as well as a student from Newfield High school  in Selden.

Schmidt said that future awards may have other components that will be considered, including submitting a piece that represents domestic violence awareness, issues surrounding missing persons in our country, or a representation of the inspiration they get from Gabby’s free-spirit lifestyle. 

LaFountain submitted her application for the scholarship through the guidance office of the high school that manages the local scholarship processes.  

LaFountain was sure to include and emphasize her history of involvement and commitment to the arts because “I knew [the arts] were so important to Gabby.”

A dancer since the age of 2 and a stage actor since the age of 6, LaFountain has had professional representation since she was 8 years old with various credits in TV, film, commercial, print and voiceover work.  

She now plans on utilizing that experience to pursue a degree in entertainment public relations at Syracuse University this fall.

During her own high school career, Petito, who graduated from BBP High School in 2017, was an accomplished artist, and was awarded many titles and crowned winner at multiple contests.

In 11th grade, Petito was honored with inclusion in the senior art display with her probing self-portrait, done in light pencil.

After graduating high school, Petito’s artwork, with a poignant anchor, was selected as the symbol for The Great South Bay Coalition, a Blue Point community organization formed after a local mother’s loss of her son to a heroin overdose.

The mission statement of the The Great South Bay Coalition is “To empower our communities to promote physical, mental and spiritual health in an effort to reduce the impact of substance abuse,” and Petito’s artwork was chosen because it represented inner strength and clear vision through turmoil.

“She always gravitated towards the arts as a young girl,” said Schmidt. In a breathtaking and genuflecting mural dedicated to Petito’s life, local artist Tess Parker captured the beauty of Petito’s personal artwork in a reproduction of the pieces incorporated into the mural.

“Gabby was quite the artist herself,” said Parker. “She had a unique technique that produced striking artwork.”

“I believe the mural in dedication to Gabby is a wonderful example of just how to honor her.  Gabby’s art seemed to be where her heart was.  Each of us has an artist in us somewhere.  The mural hopefully will act as an inspiration for us all to find it and express it.  I can think of no better way to honor her,” said LaFountain

Deeply affected by Gabby’s tragic, whirlwind story that captured the media last year, LaFountain has kept the Petito and Schmidt families in her mind. “The absolute fear her family endured and the never-ending anguish they always will, is rarely far from my thoughts,” said LaFountain.

“I am so very proud of Katherine for receiving this scholarship honoring Gabby and know that she will do her best to keep her  free spirit alive,” said Carol LaFountain, Katherine’s mother.

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