EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

June 30, 2013

Lawrence woman has 'top notch' idea to help others like her

Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series of stories to be published over the summer about ordinary people who are making a difference in their communities.

LAWRENCE — Growing up in Lawrence, Joanna DePena said many doors opened for her through playing basketball at the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence.

She received a scholarship to a boarding school, attended Nichols College where she made the dean’s list for the spring 2009 semester. She later transferred to LaSalle College from which she graduated. She also attended Disney College and worked at Magic Kingdom.

In her junior year at LaSalle, DePena, 23, founded Top Notch Network, a private social network site that will fund college scholarships to Lawrence students through members’ $20 dues. Top Notch’s logo is a balance with a globe on one scale and three books with a graduation cap on the other. The group will host events throughout the year for students who want to go to community college, technical school or a four-year university. The scholarships will be for average students with a grade point average of 3.0 and who are community oriented.

“I want to pay it forward,” DePena said. “I was blessed to have been successful and what I’m doing now is giving others the opportunity so they can become successful.”

Born in Lawrence, she grew up on Summer Street with her mother, Altagracia DePena. She started going to the Boys & Girls Club at age 7 for its basketball program.

“My whole life has revolved around basketball and through it, I’ve learned to never give up and learned that every second counts. In basketball even if there’s only 10 minutes you can still win the game,” DePena said.

She also learned that if she was not doing well at school, she could not participate in the game she loves, either at the Boys & Girls Club or at Proctor Academy.

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