Thursday, July 3, 2008

Westchester Guardian.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Catherine Wilson, Bureau Chief
Northern Westchester

Community Support for Students

A famous African saying states that “it takes a village to raise a child”. This month, thousands of students will be graduating high school and preparing to embark on their college careers. The graduating speeches will acknowledge teachers, friends, and families for their support. But behind those students is, indeed, an entire village of support. Support comes from local business leaders, civic groups, organizations, and individuals in the form of grants, scholarships, and awards.

The Guardian spoke to several local high schools about the level of support their students receive from their communities. We uncovered an incredible outpouring of support in the community for our local graduates.

Chief among the supporters for our local schools are volunteer and community organizations like the Lions Club and the Rotary Club. The Rotary Club of White Plains has established a trust fund specifically for scholarships to “aid and assist in the further educa-tion of worthy graduates of secondary schools in the White Plains area”. The club determines the beneficiaries of the scholarships by soliciting applicants
from White Plains High School, Stepinac High School, and Good Counsel School. The club notes scholarship recipients are determined by the Board of Directors of the club and are determined based on grades, school activities including athletics, financial need, and good citizenship.

Julie Kattan from the White Plains club told The Guardian that last year alone this Rotary branch gave out $22,000 in scholarships to students in their community. The volunteer organizations usually do not limit their contributions to local students to scholarships; their
generosity extends to all areas of education. The White Plains Rotary Club hosts an annual track and field event for high schools called the Loucks Games. These games are the largest high school track meet in the USA, attracting over 2,400 athletes in 2008.

Similarly, the Moses Taylor Jr. Post of the American Legion supports local students throughout their academic careers. Mr. Santo Asaro spoke to The Guardian about the Legion’s contributions to area students. “We try to give at least four scholarships each year to graduating seniors,” Asaro said. “We have two scholarships for $1,000 per year for all four years of college and we try to give another two scholarships
of $1,000 each. But this is only one of our programs for young people.

We have a Head Start program to encourage children academically. We also have children from local schools visit. Within the past month, fifth grade students from Pound Ridge and Mt. Kisco schools visited us. They get to know people who are veterans of different wars”. The Legion also supports extracurricular activities for area children such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts events, and “Boys State” and “Girls
State” programs. “Every year we send two to four boys in their Junior year of high school in local schools to a two week program upstate in Morrisville to learn about government,” Asaro said.

“The Ladies Auxiliary sponsors two to four girls to attend this program”. Leticia Costas administers the scholarships awarded to Somers High School students and confirmed the breadth of awards available for students. “We get awards from so many local groups and businesses,” Costas said. “Our students receive scholarships from the Somers Historical Society, the local branch of JP Morgan Chase Bank, the Lincolndale Property Owners Association, the local Chamber of Commerce, the Somers Newcomers Club, the local branch of Astoria Federal Savings Bank, the Volunteer Fire-fighters, and Billingsley Real Estate, to name just a few.” Jerome Billingsley told The Guardian that offering scholarships to local students was a long-standing tradition in his family.

“My mother started this four decades ago,” Billingsley said. “We get kids who’ll come into our office years later telling us that we helped them with their education. I have mothers who’ll stop me in the supermarket to tell me how their child is doing in college. It’s such a wonderful feeling”.

Debbie Goodman, of Ardsley High School, also confirmed the volume and diversity of the groups providing the awards. “We have a variety of groups that support our students,” Goodman said. “We get awards from the Ardsley Garden Club, Hudson Valley Blood Services,
Sunnydale Farms, the Volunteer Ambulance Corps, the Ardsley Fire Department and Police Department, the Rivertown Lions Club, the Rotary Club, and the P.T.A. and the Ardsley Education Foundation”. Many high school administrators noted that it was not unusual for their annual awards dinners to last three to four hours in order to hand out all of the local awards and scholarships to their students. Bedford
High School provided The Guardian with their complete list of awards that is over four pages long. This list also denoted the varying qualifications for the awards – a student does not have to be the class valedictorian or a science whiz to qualify for many awards. There are
scholarships for students who exhibit patriotism, have culturally diverse interests, are pursuing nursing, are attending vocational school, completed an ESL program, work part-time, exhibit strong writing skills, have artistic talent, participated in drama, supports tolerance,
has strong community service, studies Latin, overcame obstacles, loves poetry, is a special education student, has athletic ability, displays musical talent, pursues social studies – in short, there is a scholarship for every area of interest.

The inspiration and reasons for the scholarships are as diversified as the scholarships themselves. The Women’s Civic Club of Katonah awarded 15 scholarships this year to area students. Mary Hart, the Chairman of the Club’s Education Committee, noted that the club was
founded in 1913 by local suffragettes to aid women. “Education is one of our original tenets,” Hart said. “We have a strong commitment to aiding students. Since 1996, we have awarded over $100,000 in scholarships locally. This year we gave 10 scholarships to John Jay
High School, one to John F. Kennedy High School, two nursing scholarships, one award to a young disabled man to attend a summer program, and one ‘alternative’ scholarship to a student pursuing an unusual course of study. This year’s winner of the alternative scholarship
wants to pursue film-making. She’s an incredible young woman who has high honors, is a math tutor, captain of her softball team, works two jobs, is a volunteer with the ambulance corps, involved with school clubs, and was an extra on a television show which sparked her interest in film”. Hart also noted that the club adapts their scholarships to changing needs. “We started the nursing scholarships a few years ago when the nursing shortage became acute”.

The one regret Hart had was the inability of the club to do even more for area students. “We use three criteria for awarding our scholarships: academic achievement, community service, and financial need. We find we have so many children who are worthy, we wish we could do more,” Hart noted. The funding for the Civic Club’s scholarships comes from two main sources – their thrift shop in Katonah, and their annual Beaux Arts Exhibit of county artists. “Our volunteers are wonderful,” Hart said. “We have over 150 women who work at our thrift store. They pledge at least one day a month to our fund-raising efforts. Our volunteers are committed to our goals”.

Equally committed are the friends and family members who manage the multitude of memorial funds that award scholarships each year. Paul Radomski manages the ‘Joe Radomski Memorial Fund’ which awards an annual $1,000 scholarship to an Ardsley High School student. “My father was involved with every aspect of the high school. He was a dedicated fan at the sports events and volunteered wherever he could, like working the concession stands. He loved participating in every way he could. When he died suddenly, we wanted to keep his spirit,
energy, and memory alive”. Radomski noted that the annual award goes to a student who is strong academically and athletically and has strong community service. “We ask the high school to provide nominations, and the fund’s board, dad’s friends and family, votes on this.

Every year we host a local event and sell raffle tickets to raise money. So far we’ve raised $20,000 – so that should keep the fund going for a while!” Hart acknowledged a personal advantage of the memorial fund: “When I meet with dad’s friends each year, it’s like my father is with us. We laugh and share stories. I look forward to our annual events. It keeps my dad’s spirit alive”.

Some memorial funds have a direct connection to the schools they assist. Many schools have funds in honor of past students, coaches, teachers, administrators, and more recently, funds in memory of 9/11 victims who attended local schools. These funds are often established to continue the efforts of the coach/teacher or the goals and dreams of the student honored. Peter Benson manages the ‘John Ouligian Excellence in Mathematics Award’ to honor an Ardsley teacher who is currently suffering from Alzheimer’s. At the 40th reunion of the Class of 1966, past students learned of the tragedy befalling their favorite teacher and decided to honor him with a scholarship fund.
According to Benson “Mr. Ouligian was monumental in the lives of many of us.

Forty years after graduation we still remembered him and how incredible a teacher he was”. A fellow graduate, Pat Koslowe, confirmed this. “You could write a book about him. Half the girls were probably in love with him! He was very handsome, very personable, and was like a movie star. But he was a man of great learning and patience.” Ouligian’s students did more than just honor him with a scholarship fund; they gathered their recollections and photographs of him into a booklet and set their reminiscences to the Armenian music of his heritage and presented this to Ouligian’s wife.

The efforts of these grateful students were published in a national Armenian newspaper in an article honoring their teacher. The fund’s administrators try to emulate the spirit of their teacher in this award. “We leave the selection of the student up to the school,” Benson acknowledged. “But we ask that the recipient display an enthusiasm, a real love of math”. The fund hopes to keep this award going for years.

“Our first year out we raised over $2,500,” Koslowe said. “And many of the emails and letters we received said to count the donors in every year.” All of the individuals involved with awarding scholarships to our local students had one trait in common – incredible enthusiasm for their efforts. They couldn’t wait to tell Guardian readers about their goals and programs of their organizations, or how remarkable the individual being honored was and why they deserved a fund in their memory. This writer spoke with incredible individuals for this article – all were warm, friendly, and enthusiastic. With supporters like these people, our local students are off to a good start in their careers.

Hopefully they will be able to support future students in turn. Every local high school has a Senior Advisor or Counselor who is responsible
for the administration of their community’s scholarships. Any local resident who wishes to support a deserving student can contact their
local High School for a list of the organizations and foundations offering scholarships.

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