Dollars for Scholars on Track for Banner Year Despite Pandemic

CSF of Bedford Dollars for Scholars is resonating throughout the community like never before.

Despite the restrictions dictated by the pandemic, a few weeks ago the chapter hosted its best-attended trivia night fundraiser—on Zoom. The annual phonathon during the first weekend in March was also off-limits, so the chapter turned to the U.S. mail with an online donation option.

Dollars for Scholars presents scores of scholarships each year to qualifying eligible students, including any senior graduating from Bedford High School, as well as any Bedford or Hanscom Air Force Base resident graduating from another secondary school, completing home-schooling, or General Educational Development (GED) requirements. Applicants must be planning to attend a four-year or two-year college, or technical or vocational school.

Ten members of the chapter board, including some former presidents, reflected on the reasons for the continuing success at a virtual round table earlier this week. But first, some numbers:

  • Dollars for Scholars, which is the local chapter of Scholarship America (formerly Citizens Scholarship Foundation), is in its 57th year.
  • Since 1965, the chapter has presented $2,834,134 to 3,244 graduating seniors. Last year the chapter awarded about $150,000.
  • The chapter manages an endowment of about $1.6 million, much of which was contributed as permanent memorials. The threshold for an endowed scholarship is $5,000; donors have five years to reach that amount. “It’s a wonderful tradition that people really appreciate,” said Board member Tara Goss.
  • Besides more than 60 endowed scholarships, there are another 40 or so annual scholarship awards sponsored by individuals, families, businesses, industry, and professional groups.

The board members embody the intense volunteer culture that has defined the organization, with roles ranging from reviewing scholarship applications and confidential financial information to promoting opportunities for memorials and coordinating the annual awards reception.

“Bedford highly values education,” explained Dr. Shirley Kring, chapter vice president. “Having been a military family that has moved elsewhere in the country, we were so thankful to move back to Bedford. And part of the reason is people who value education.”

Laura Heyl, who chairs the scholarship selections process, observed, “We don’t have that large a graduating class, so we can all get to know the kids. And that really helps the organization for volunteers, parents, students, and donors. It’s a nice, warm feeling, something really traditional.”

Alma Pomponi, who with her late husband Sal built the annual telephone campaign to a broad-based powerhouse and continues that project today, pointed out that “we are a completely local group and all money raised is from local donors and is for local kids. We want people to get to know us and keep coming back each year.”

She emphasized that “we recognize a broad spectrum of kids, not just the top group. The town wants to award kids across the board.” One factor leading to the varied pool of applicants is specific interest criteria that donors have established for the awards they sponsor, ranging from women in engineering to public service to participation in music or athletics, Heyl pointed out.

Ron Stewart, a past chapter president who now serves as its historian, pointed out that local students attend the same four school buildings, so the core of each senior class is together for many years. “By the time you get to thinking about college, you know so many of the kids in the grade. And I think they all have a respect for the importance of college. The community is very supportive of all that’s going on.”

The annual scholarship reception, which was hosted by Bedford Glen Hotel until last spring’s virtual event, “serves as an umbrella for the whole town,” Pomponi said.

Joel Shwimer, investments chair, explained that “we address the scholarships from a merit and a need perspective, as well as any financial service, could. I think that’s felt by the community.”

Chapter Treasurer Jerry Pfeffer pointed out that the awards are not uniform. “There’s a huge curve based on financial need.” It can range from a couple of hundred dollars to several thousand. “There is a spectrum and we want to recognize as many as possible on the basis of merit, but the dollar amount is based on need.” The minimum amount awarded is $250, and if there is financial need an individual could receive two or more, he added.

“We don’t have a big financial impact but I always felt part of the success is to recognize the maximum number of students. That keeps the community involved and makes it more successful,” said Dr. Eugene “Pete” Eagles, who developed and co-chairs the permanent funds. “As we look to the future, we’ve got to remember that.”

Pomponi recalled that when Eagles recruited her to the board, “he told me these awards are like a pat on the back from their home town. I think we are a small town and we have a big impact on the kids.” Eagles added, “We cannot underestimate how much it means to the kids to get even a small amount of money from their own community, saying, ‘We’re behind you.’”

Many colleges subtract the outside scholarships students receive from their financial aid packages. Dollars for Scholars has developed some ways to mitigate that.

The parent organization has worked with many “college partners” who have agreed to sustain financial aid, Pfeffer said. They find other ways to compensate, such as reducing work-study hours. He added that seven recipients last year enrolled in colleges that agreed to match the local award.

Locally, “We allow students to defer any way they want so they can minimize the impact,” Pfeffer said. Heyl added, “We suggest to students who have a significant awards package to spread it out, because they don’t know what they’ll get all four years.”

In some cases, Shwimer said, “when a student knows that financial aid is going to be reduced, we convince the student not to take our money so we can use it for somebody else.” The original recipient still gets the recognition.

Several of the Board members have been involved for decades. Indeed, Bobbie Ennis said she was among a group of residents sitting around Joe and Dot Farwell’s kitchen table when the chapter was born in the fall of 1964. “We gave three scholarships that year,” she laughed. Now, she pointed out, former recipients have become scholarship sponsors.

The group, however, is not worried about perpetuation. “There are a number of newcomers who are coming to the organization, the past two years, especially,” Shwimer said. “We have people helping us out and expect them on the board. I look forward to it,” Pfeffer said. “There is a concerted effort to listen to new ideas. We are stopping ourselves from being resistant to change.”

“New people bring social media skills into the picture. That’s the next bridge that we need to cross, and this year we have done wonderfully, with their help,” said Stewart. “We always welcome newcomers,” added Kring.

Stewart lauded the support from key school administrators: School Superintendent Philip Conrad (a Dollars for Scholars recipient as a student in Wakefield) and BHS Principal Heather Galante. He saluted the late Al Hurd, an early volunteer who served for years as chapter historian. “Because of his efforts, we know every single recipient and every board member.”

More information about dollars for Scholars can be found at the chapter website, www.bedfordma.dollarsforscholars.org. The link to the current campaign is  https://bit.ly/DollarsForScholarsMail-a-thon2021.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763


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