Edy Antonio, Jr. is living the life he hoped for as a 2018 Hartnell College graduate in respiratory therapy, and he has immediately sought to invest in other students like him.

Antonio works full-time at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula and part-time at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital (SVMH), and is a proud parent, along with his fiancé, to a 6-month-old son.

Despite these amazing accomplishments that have him looking toward the future, he also looks back to the next generation. This first-generation college student from Salinas has funded an annual scholarship program for other respiratory care students at Hartnell, having presented the first two $500 checks earlier this month.

“I had a lot of mentors growing up, and they said, ‘If you’re able to, the best thing you can do is always give back to those who have helped you get to where you are,’” Antonio said. “So that’s what I’m trying to do here, is give back to the program that got me to where I am, that got me to where I’m financially stable and happy with my career.”

Part of his motivation came from having noticed as a student that, while there were scholarships for allied health and nursing students, he saw none specifically designated for respiratory therapy.

Already, Antonio has set a goal to increase his scholarship giving in future years, including possibly expanding it to support students at other community colleges in the region with respiratory care programs. He’s even enlisted friends to support his efforts through a GoFundMe account.

To be considered for the Edy Antonio Future Respiratory Therapist Scholarship, students must be currently enrolled in the Hartnell Respiratory Care Program. They also are asked to submit a one-page statement explaining their career choice and how their own experiences working with hospitals and other clinical partners has widened their view of the profession.

The 2021 scholarship recipients, selected by Antonio, are first-year student Andrea Figueroa Pizano and second-year student Lizette Mota Ramirez.

Hartnell Governing Board President Erica Padilla-Chavez described Antonio’s scholarships as a powerful statement of the impact the college has on students’ lives and their outlook.

“Edy’s decision to fund an ongoing scholarship is a testament to the quality of education he received at Hartnell and the opportunities we provide for our students,” Padilla-Chavez said. “It also speaks to the tremendous desire of our graduates to make a difference in their communities and the world.”

Antonio traces his career path back to participation in health sciences at North Salinas High School, where he graduated in 2012. This led to volunteer positions at SVMH and Natividad Medical Center. He started out with jobs in visitor reception and the gift shop, but at both hospitals, he moved into support roles for the emergency room.

During intense “code blue” situations, he kept seeing the same person at the head of the bed.

“I asked, ‘How come that same person is there?’, and the ER director said, ‘That’s the respiratory therapist. Always there for code,’” Antonio recalled. “So that was the day that I decided I wanted to become a respiratory therapist.”

The job has proven to be even more rewarding than he expected, allowing him to keep learning advanced procedures while meeting the challenges of COVID-19, including managing respiratory care for as many as seven patients at once.

Before the pandemic, Antonio said, “People were like, ‘Respiratory therapist, what’s that?’ And now it’s all over the news, like, ‘Thank you to the respiratory therapists; they’re managing the ventilators that are keeping people alive.’”

Hartnell Respiratory Care instructor Emily Brandt said that even though Antonio’s scholarship is the first of its kind, it reflects a strong connection many respiratory therapy graduates feel to the program, as well as their understanding of what a difference they can make.

Even during the pandemic, she said that that bond has extended to graduates wanting to meet with current students via Zoom.

“They want to tell them, ‘I’ve realized the importance of some of the things we were doing in the program even more now that I’m out working,’” Brandt said.

Hartnell’s interim superintendent/president, Dr. Raúl Rodríguez, said that graduates’ affinity for their academic programs is a very positive sign for the college and its future.

“Edy is absolutely right when he says it’s important to give back when you can,” Dr. Rodríguez said. “We are thrilled with his decision and his philanthropic leadership.”