When a child first approaches the doors to school to begin kindergarten, paying for college down the road is usually not on their minds. It may be on a parent’s mind long before their child is donning a cap and gown to graduate high school, however. Higher education is one of the most valuable tools in the world today, but it also comes with a hefty price tag.
Unfortunately, that price tag is what stops many smart and capable students from going on to achieve their goals and dreams. But with a little help from the community, these very students can have a light of hope to lead them into the bright future they aspire toward. On April 25, the Mayor’s Scholarship Fund honored 27 bright young minds with the funds to take the first steps towards a college education.
"It's not a lot, but it's enough to keep a student college bound," said Cami Smith, director of the Education Foundation of District 91 and of the Scholarship Fund, "A lot of it comes down to the fact that someone believes in them."
We sat down with Mayor Jared Fuhriman, creator of the fund, to find out more about this scholarship, why it exists and the valuable asset it is to a student’s education.
IF: What inspired you to start the scholarship fund?
JF: When I was with the police department, I was there for eighteen years. For a lot of those years, I worked with a lot of kids. I did a lot of work as an off-duty police officer at Skyline High School and Eagle Rock Junior High. I really got to know quite a bit of the youth and had great rapport, and I learned that a lot of them are struggling. One of the biggest issues I found was that a lot of kids were not able to go to higher education. As I saw some of these kids later after they've graduated from high school or maybe dropped out, I'd see them four or five years down the road and some of them are in prison, some doing bad stuff. Some are working three jobs, that type of thing. I think that was the impetus, was trying to give an opportunity to students that may never have an opportunity to go to college. That's why we've separated the scholarship, one for the seniors and one for grades 8 through 11, to give them hope. If you could see these kids when they're selected, the essays that they write, and see their moms and dads at the event with tears and saying "Thank you so much," it gives them a confidence boost. The kids that are doing this, they don't have a lot of advantages. We didn't want to give scholarships to the 4.0 students, or to those that are failing. We want to try to capture those in the 'forgotten middle' that may not get a strong scholarship, but hopefully entices them to continue on.
IF: What kind of students are you looking at when you're deciding who to award the money to?
JF: We try to find those that are not sure if they think they could go to college. Hopefully, by providing the scholarships that gives them the extra boost, because sometimes, you just can't wait to graduate from high school, but then find out how difficult it is to support a family without some type of education or job skill. We want to entice them to take it to the next level.
IF: Where does the money come from?
JF: A lot of it is donations, from different sponsors. It's absolutely fabulous the generosity we have in our community. There has been significant monies in the past, and we take some and let it grow. It's helped us to be able to give another three scholarships to the seniors this year. It's not a lot of scholarships, but we're starting to grow to where we can do that. There has been some significant money that has been donated throughout the community and we're very fortunate for it. Many of the students just don't have the resources, and that's what it comes down to. It takes big bucks [for college].
IF: Are there any candidates this year that have a truly amazing background?
JF: To be honest, that's probably the toughest part of our job; we'll be reading applications and we'll have tears. Some have overcome great obstacles, whether it be physical, emotional, financial or medical. The stories are all across the board. That's why we're very happy that this year, we could give three more. If I had a pot full of money, we'd open up the way for them, but you can only do so much.
IF: How do you feel like this is a service to students in the future?
JF: We've seen more and more applications come in every year. It's getting more and more competitive. With many colleges, it seems like their financial aid is somewhat shrinking, so it's really problematic in some respects. The sponsors give so generously and it will have an impact, a very positive impact. Sometimes we don't see it early on, but the best part is seeing the smiles [of the students], especially from those who didn't have a prayer of even getting a scholarship. We appreciate the community, and I've been very proud about how the community has stepped up to this, and they've responded to it in a big way.