Every Penny CountsA beneficiary of The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County's scholarship program describes how awards help donors honor loved ones while making college more affordable.
AS A LITTLE GIRL IN THE EARLY 2000s, I collected change in an old mason jar. I checked our couch cushions weekly, raided the center console in my mom’s car every chance I got, and frequently scanned every countertop and table in the house for orphaned coins. The only denomination safe from my eager-to-get-rich hands were pennies.
When my mom saw my jar full of silver, she asked me two questions: “Why don’t you collect pennies?” and “So, you’re the one taking the change out of my car?”
A penny seemed like nothing back then. However, in my life now as a college student, it’s clear that I’ve needed every penny of every scholarship I have received. One is from the Melville Alexander Eberhardt Memorial Fund, which provides aid to graduating Pennsylvania high school seniors in financial need who are headed to two- or four-year colleges. The fund is among those that have been established at The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County (CFWC) and The Pittsburgh Foundation to make grants every year in perpetuity.
The two organizations oversee one of the largest community foundation–led scholarship programs in the nation, awarding about $2.3 million annually. Of the 320 active scholarship funds, 64 are dedicated exclusively for the benefit of Westmoreland County students like me, while honoring the wishes of donors who established scholarships.
An example is the Anita Doyle Memorial Scholarship Fund. Wayne Doyle, former superintendent of Hempfield Schools, established the scholarship in 2013 in memory of his wife, Anita, who died in June 2010. The scholarship dedication describes Anita as an extremely bright and supportive woman who, despite not having gone to college, advocated for everyone having an opportunity to achieve higher education.
“I created the fund because I wanted to support Anita’s vision and recognize her for the encouragement she gave to young people,” says Doyle. “She would have wanted to give them the financial assistance they need to follow their dreams.”
Anita supported her husband as he completed master’s and doctoral degrees, and then assisted their daughters as they went through college. In the six years since the fund was established, graduating seniors from Hempfield Area High School with GPAs of 3.5 and above have been awarded scholarships from the fund. That experience is as exciting for the Doyle family as it is for the students.
“Seeing the students’ faces when they receive the scholarship is so rewarding,” says Doyle. “Anita would have loved being at the awards ceremony.”
As an Eberhardt scholarship recipient, I can attest that the feeling that comes from receiving a scholarship after a competitive application process is incredible, thrilling, relieving and unbelievable. All those feelings are wrapped up into one emotional moment. Each year, hundreds of moments like this result from the Foundations’ program, which awarded more than 700 scholarships last year.
The process begins online with the Foundations’ Scholarship Search tool, where students click a variety of boxes about their field of study, hometown or school. The application for many scholarships can also be completed online. Search results include brief descriptions, average awards, deadlines and eligibility requirements. Application guidelines often reflect the preferences of donors like Doyle as they honor the memory of loved ones. Most scholarships are for college and graduate school, but there are also offerings for trade school, pre-K-to-12 tuition, special needs programs, music lessons and other enrichment activities.
“The online search and application process helps us reach a large population of potential applicants and fulfill our donors’ intentions of awarding to students who best fit the funds’ criteria,” says the Foundations’ Scholarship Coordinator Jennifer Marino. “Our search tool provides greater awareness and ease of access for counselors, university administrators, parents and students as they apply for scholarships.”
A thorough search is frequently worthwhile: the average award last academic year was $3,300, with larger awards ranging from $15,000 to $22,000. Regardless of amount, every award makes an impact on a student’s future and community.
“Endowing a scholarship fund to meet the needs of the community is a perfect example of altruistic benevolence,” says the Foundation’s Grants Manager, Ashley Hezel. “These scholarships are often the very thing that tips the scales in favor of the student, making an otherwise unattainable education a reality.”
Explore the Foundations’ program at pittsburghfoundation.org/scholarshipsearch.
Original story appeared in the Forum Quarterly Summer 2019.