ST. PARIS – The Graham Community Foundation (GCF), an alumni organization that has been providing scholarships for two decades to allow Graham High School students to continue their education, looks forward to awarding up to 12 2022 graduates with funding this spring.
The Foundation was formed in 2001 by alumni of the six original schools who came together in 1957 to form the Graham district: Christiansburg-Jackson, Terre Haute, Concord, St. Paris, Westville and Rosewood.
Current GCF President Ron Clark, a 1966 Graham graduate, has been leading the organization for the last five years. The foundation consists of a board of trustees with 11 community members, all Graham graduates. Current members include Clark, secretary Lora Roush, treasurer Steve Jenkins, vice president Keith Schaffer, Janie Ludlow, Shari Dill, Wilma Lewis, Hobart Roush, Barb Zook and Tiffany Arnett. The GCF also recognizes one emeritus member, John Steinberger, who served as one of the original founding trustees.
To gain funding, the foundation sends out solicitation letters to Graham alumni once a year in November during their donation campaign. Commonly, community members will donate money in the name of a deceased relative to honor their memory. Once donations are received, the Troy Foundation manages the investment accounts for the organization, governing the funds.
Each year, the GCF gives away one-time scholarships from the principal money taken in. The first scholarship, given in the spring of 2002, amounted to one $500 gift contributed by the foundation’s original members, and each year, both the dollar amount of the scholarships and the number given out has increased in accordance with community giving.
“We’ve grown, of course, and we’ve had extremely good donations from a lot of good people,” Clark said.
Though many of the original foundation’s members have passed away, Clark emphasizes that it is that group’s initiative which is continuing to benefit Graham seniors today.
“They’re the ones who need to be patted on the back, because without them starting this, it wouldn’t exist,” he said.
Dill, a 1975 Graham alumnus and retired Graham teacher who taught 3rd through 6th grade for 35 years, echoed Clark’s sentiment in honoring past members of the GCF who were alumni of the six original schools.
One of her main reasons for joining the Board of Trustees was the inspiration of friend and GCF founding member Fonda Lou Eaton, a 1953 Johnson-St. Paris graduate, and her father-in-law, Kermit Dill, who was a 1941 Concord graduate and also a founding member.
Now, Dill serves as the lead of the selection committee within the GCF and acts as the go-between for the school and the foundation, collecting applications and distributing the scholarships themselves.
In 2021, eight Graham seniors were selected for an award: seven students received a scholarship of $1,125 and one student received a grant in the same amount, the first time the foundation gave over $1,000.
Clark anticipates that in 2022, the foundation will award about a dozen students with a $1,000 one-time gift.
All Graham High School seniors are eligible, regardless of their career goals. The GCF offers two distinct opportunities: a grant and a scholarship. The grant is reserved for students planning to pursue a vocational path after graduation, whether they look to enter a trade or technical school, the nursing field, obtain an Associate’s degree, or gain any other type of specialized schooling in a specific area of study.
Implementing this opportunity for students that do not desire a university education was a choice that the original 2001 committee made as they evaluated applications. In past years, the GCF has awarded this grant to students attending welding school, mechanic training, agricultural instruction, and an electricity or carpentry apprenticeship, among other secondary education opportunities.
“We’d like to get that publicized more, because those trade fields are so much needed today, and sometimes kids that are not on that college path don’t think about applying for a scholarship or a grant,” Dill said.
In addition, the scholarship is open to students planning to enroll in a 4-year university and seek a Bachelor’s degree.
To apply for either the grant or the scholarship, the student must fill out basic information and respond to several prompts, including listing recent activities that relate to career and educational goals, listing honors, awards, and personal characteristics, and crafting a 200-word essay on why the student wishes to further his or her education. Supplemental materials – an official GHS transcript, two letters of recommendation from teachers, and a recent original photograph – must all be submitted with the application for it to be considered.
After selection, to receive the funding, the student must enroll full-time in a post-high school accredited institution of higher learning. The application deadline is March 22, 2022, and the award is only eligible for the 2022-2023 academic year.
Once the submission period has ended, the GCF committee members evaluate applications. Dill explains that, personally, she looks for students who are well-rounded in multiple endeavors both within and outside of school. Straight-A’s are not a requirement, but the committee considers athletic involvement, extracurriculars, community service, decent grades, and work experience.
“They don’t have to be the top in their class,” Dill said. “I like to see someone that’s had a variety of activities.”
The chosen winners will be announced at the GHS Honors Night ceremony at the end of the school year and presented by GCF trustees alongside other scholarships for which students have competed.
Clark intends these scholarships to motivate and incentivize students to continue their education, whether they plan to attend a 4-year university or not. He understands the need to grow a skilled, young workforce due to his over 20 years of service on the Board of Trustees for the Pioneer Electric Cooperative of Miami County.
“Our goal right now is to try to get the non-college people to apply, because we need those kinds of people probably more dire than we need 4-year college kids in our workforce today, in the committee’s opinion,” Clark said. “For years, we’ve emphasized college, and I encourage the 4-year kids to go to school, but I think these kids that are trying to go to a technical school or a trade school feel they do not have a chance to receive a scholarship against a kid who is an extremely good student. I hope that they will realize that they can compete. We look at them just as seriously as the others.”
Dill expresses her desire that the foundation continue to impact and encourage Graham students through the generosity of alumni.
“I hope that when they get a scholarship that not only is it the money but it’s also the notion that ‘somebody believes in me.’ When they get that, that helps spark them on to want to complete a program or a degree,” Dill said. “One thousand dollars is a drop in the bucket anymore, but it’s more the incentive that somebody believes in them, and therefore they want to do well for their community.”
For more information on the Graham Community Foundation, how to apply for their grant and scholarship, or to donate to the fund, please visit https://thetroyfoundation.org/grahamcommunityfoundation.
Paper applications can be obtained in the Graham High School Guidance Office. If interested in serving on the Graham Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees, contact Ron Clark at (937) 653-3217.