Maria Dellapina honors her daughter, Erin, with the 2023 Erin’s Umbrella scholarship winners.

Buddy Cruise Inc., a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity that provides educational opportunities, awareness, advocacy and inclusion for individuals with special needs and their families, recently announced the 2023 Erin’s Umbrella scholarship winners.

Founded in 2008, one of its key programs is an annual conference at sea that hosts interactive workshops, events and activities for all ages and abilities. Families from across the globe come together for this unique, life-changing experience.

Maria Dellapina and her daughter, Erin, enjoyed several years of Buddy Cruising until, sadly, Erin passed away in 2019. Later that year, Erin’s family, onboard the Buddy Cruise, announced the creation of the Erin’s Umbrella scholarship. Erin’s sweet, caring and infectious smile will be remembered by allowing new families to experience the same joy onboard the Buddy Cruise. Scholarship winners will receive a voyage on Buddy Cruise 2023, including a cabin for two and conference fees with access to all sessions, events, activities and Buddy Cruise swag.

Nominations were received from across the country, and with so many heartfelt stories, three families were awarded scholarships this year, including two local families.

One of the scholarship winners is Diego Rangel, a Newsome High School student with multiple special needs. He continues to succeed and overcome many diagnoses. He and his family have endured many hardships this past year, including the passing of his grandmother, who was his caregiver while his mother, Daniella Vetencourt, underwent chemotherapy treatments. They are excited to join the Buddy Cruise this year and celebrate life.

Diego Rangel (left), one of the 2023 Erin’s Umbrella scholarship winners, with his mother and brother.

The second scholarship winner is Madelyn Hart, who has several disabilities that affect her daily life. The Buddy Cruise will give her a chance to socialize with other individuals who know what it is like to be neurodiverse in a safe environment. Hart has four siblings, two of whom also have unique needs. Her mother, Donna, a teacher at Newsome High School, is thrilled to share this experience with Hart and take part in their first Buddy Cruise.

Madelyn Hart (right), one of the 2023 Erin’s Umbrella scholarship winners, with her mother.

The third recipient of the 2023 Erin’s Umbrella scholarship is Cody Reyes. Reyes is a 22-year-old man who resides in Terrytown, Louisiana.

The Buddy Cruise welcomes everyone: individuals with disabilities, their families and friends. Even if you are not a part of the special-needs community, you are welcome to come along for an amazing journey. The 2023 event will be held onboard Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas for a fun Halloween sailing from Sunday, October 29 through Sunday, November 5.

For more information about the 2023 Buddy Cruise or other upcoming events, visit, email or call 877-239-2789, Ext. 0.

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