Philanthropy and small business helps Aurora student land prestigious scholarship at Queen’s

Queen’s University campus. Kingstonist file photo.

For the last seven years, Avery Benlolo has devoted her spare time to making a difference in the lives of local women in need.

Together with her sisters, Lexi and Amanda, they founded the Pampered Pillowcase, an organization delivering items to brighten the lives of these women, regardless of their circumstances. In just a few short years, the Pampered Pillowcase program has mushroomed from their Aurora basement to chapters across North America. Now, their efforts have reaped some unexpected dividends: earning Avery a place among just 50 students nation-wide receiving the Chancellor’s Scholarship from Queen’s University.

Nominations for the Queen’s University Chancellor’s Scholarship are open to many Canadian high schools and the number of nominees each place of learning is allowed to submit is determined by the size of the school itself. As a student at an independent school, Avery was the sole nominee this year from King’s Country Day School.

“Once you’re nominated, there’s a really long application process that included a few different essays, your transcript, a reference letter, and a creative component,” says Avery. “I didn’t hear back for a few months, but I was anxiously waiting.” 

At the same time as she applied for the scholarship, Avery applied to Queen’s Commerce program and, within the span of a week, she found out she was twice lucky.

“I was celebrating with the whole family that I got into the program I wanted to get into and then later I got another email that I had won the scholarship and it put me and my entire family over the moon,” she says.

During the application process, Avery highlighted the work she, Lexi and Amanda carried out to make the Pampered Pillowcase the success it continues to be. In addition, when prompted to write an essay demonstrating her leadership ability, she had the perfect point of reference: Sweet Scrubs N’ Stuff, a small business she launched selling naturally sourced bath products at the Aurora Farmers’ Market.

“I was able to talk about how this gave me a big sense of independence, how I learned to be responsible and work on my own, and how I would sometimes face issues out there on my own,” she says. “We had a lot of opportunities growing up and we have always known how important it is to give back.

“When we started the Pampered Pillowcase, it was just our chapter in York Region not doing a crazy amount of pillow cases each year, but it was really nice to give back in a unique way with some products for women who are struggling and not in as good a circumstance as we are feel pampered, remembered and special. When we started it, it was a really amazing feeling and now we’re looking at where we have grown all across North America with almost a dozen chapters. It is great to see the impact we’ve had and how many young girls around North America are having that same feeling as us, being so happy they were able to make a difference.”

When Avery heads to Kingston this year to take up her program at Queen’s, she will be among family.

Both of her sisters currently attend Queens, where Lexi was also a recipient of the Chancellor’s Scholarship. Together, they have looked at ways to continue giving back in their new community, particularly to give a helping hand to women.

“I think all these things I have been doing and all these smaller-scale businesses that I have been a part of are kind of building up and hopefully one day they will allow me to create something really great,” says Avery. “In this moment and throughout my career, I am still young and I want to be able to learn as much as I can to develop as many skills as I can to one day hopefully run a business and be a great entrepreneur.

“My whole family – sisters and parents – have been so supportive through everything. They’re so ecstatic that we have been able to get these great achievements and we’re all going to be in the same place. A lot of the things I have been able to accomplish in getting into Queen’s and getting this scholarship I don’t think would have been possible without some of the incredible teachers I’ve had and all the support from my family. They are always there to be behind me and support me through anything.”

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