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Making a difference with a community scholarship fund

Twenty five students and $75,000 in scholarship money. That sums up the year for the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund. But it doesn't begin to tell the story.

For that, you have to go back two decades to a kitchen table at a home in the Mount Baker community. The story began there, says Dick Monroe, a Seattle attorney, father of three grown kids, and longtime member of the Mount Baker Community Club, which sponsors the scholarship fund.

He was one of four friends and neighbors who sat around that table. All had a big interest in public education and making a difference. The talk turned to raising scholarship money and awarding it to minority students. Pretty quickly, it was more than just talk.

That first year, the group passed the hat and raised $750, giving it away to three students. Each subsequent year, the amount of money raised has increased-- and so has the number of students who benefit. In the past year, more than $85,000 was raised. Of that, $75,000 went to scholarships and the balance is funding SAT prep classes and a math tutoring and enrichment program.

What hasn't changed is the mission of this grassroots neighborhood scholarship fund: to help students of color who show potential achieve their dream of higher education.

Each year, this effort involves more than a dozen volunteers, and many more Mount Baker residents who send in contributions; there were around 260 individual donations this last year.

ParentMap recently sat down with Monroe, who has been the scholarship fund's chief fund-raiser for most years since the beginning.

What kind of effort does it take to do this each year?

I want to emphasize that it's a community and group endeavor. I may be the most visible one, because I do the fund-raising part. But the actual effort includes getting out applications, working with school counselors and teachers (to identify potential scholarship recipients), choosing the recipients, and then communicating with the kids. There are about 20 committee members.

How are the scholarship recipients chosen?

We're looking for students with whom we can make a difference, perhaps even influencing the decision whether to go to college. Many of our scholarship winners have overcome serious adversity . . . drug problems in the family, divorce, a parent in jail. We look for kids who have the potential to overcome these things and succeed in college. We work with school counselors and teachers in identifying them.

You give these kids money. Do the scholarships also convey something else?

There's a message that comes with the scholarship--recognition that the recipient can achieve. By awarding the scholarship, we're saying, we think you can make it. It's all directed toward making a difference in kids who might not have had the opportunity otherwise.

What's the most challenging part of keeping the Martin Luther King Scholarship Fund going?

Strangely enough, it's not raising the money; we didn't suffer a drop in giving during the economic downturn. Of course, we work hard at raising money, but that's not the toughest part. It's effectively getting the word out to the kids whom we want to apply. These kids don't have parents who are plugged into the system. So who's going to do it? It takes an interested adult to help these kids.

Have you tracked the success of your scholarship recipients over the years?

We haven't tracked results methodically. We don't kid ourselves. We know we're dealing with a group that is not assured of success. Not all of them graduate from college. But most of them do, and that is very gratifying.

What has this scholarship fund done for the Mount Baker community?

It's one of the biggest bonds that ties people together, knowing that they collectively support this effort. It's a huge source of community pride. I'd love to see similar programs in other communities. The remarkable thing about the scholarship fund isn't so much the work on the committee, but the response of the neighborhood--that the community supports the scholarship fund to the level they do.

What keeps you involved, year after year?

It's the chance to make a difference. Helping others is a big motivator. It's no more complicated than that.

Virginia Smyth is managing editor for ParentMap. To comment on this story or suggest a story idea, contact editor@ParentMap.com

Take action

For information about the Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Fund, go to the Mount Baker Community Club Web site, www.mountbaker.org

For help starting your own community scholarship fund, contact Dick Monroe at 206-516-0348 or dmonroe@mundtmac.com

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