Published in Nonprofits

Holland, Zeeland leaders rally to support Promise Scholarship program

BY Saturday, September 15, 2018 09:30pm

HOLLAND — A promise first made in 2010 to students attending high school in Holland and Zeeland is about to grow through a new partnership.

Community and business leaders and the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area announced a new scholarship program last week during the 2018 Fall Celebration of Philanthropy event at the Eldean Boat Shed in Holland. The collaboration will enable the Community Foundation to take a more active role in supporting the current work of the Holland/Zeeland Promise Scholarship, in addition to raising money to address a growing demand for those funds.

The Holland/Zeeland Promise is modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise that debuted in 2005. Unlike the Kalamazoo Promise, which offers graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools an opportunity to attend a college or university in Michigan with 100 percent of their tuition paid for, the Holland/Zeeland Promise began with $20,000 to fund scholarships for two students.

Michael Goorhouse, the president and CEO of the Community Foundation, said the pool of funds has grown to more than $400,000 annually and now supports 33 students, who range from freshmen to seniors at their respective colleges and universities. Still, Goorhouse acknowledges more can be done.

“This has been very, very successful,” Goorhouse said. “The Community Foundation has been administering it, but it’s really been community-driven. We are going to be co-leading it with this group that has been doing it for the last eight years. We will add a little bit of our work to it and try to double it.”

The Promise Scholarship has a current donor base of more than 100 individuals and local businesses.

“We have a broad donor base that supports the foundation in general,” Goorhouse said. “We facilitate a lot of scholarships. We haven’t actively fundraised for any particular scholarship up until now.”

Although the Kalamazoo Promise is an endowment funded by an anonymous group of donors whose identities remain unknown, the Promise Scholarship is funded by individual donors who are identified in a list on the Community Foundation for the Holland/Zeeland Area website. The lakeshore program also spends all of its funds each year on scholarship recipients.

“We had some folks who wanted to do something similar to the Kalamazoo Promise,” Goorhouse said. “Some of their friends started giving to help young people get access to college and it grew from one to two to three to more students. It’s been eight years and the program has grown in size in terms of the number of students and more people in the community are giving.”

Many of the donors sign on to fund all four years of a student’s higher education.

When donors give to the Promise Scholarship, they do so for four years and are asked to re-up after that, said Stacy Timmerman, the director of scholarships at the Community Foundation.

“Because we’re committing to students for four years, we ask our donors to do the same,” Goorhouse said. “We always have four cohorts of students and four cohorts of donors.”

While the Community Foundation hasn’t set a dollar goal, it would like to be able to offer scholarships to at least 10 students per year with the goal of it being the “community’s scholarship” with long-term sustainability, Goorhouse said.

Part of that sustainability plan includes broadening a mentoring program that partners volunteers with scholarship students in college. These volunteers keep in touch with the students and offer support and encouragement. Goorhouse credits this combination of support as the reason for a 93-percent graduation rate for students in the scholarship program.

The national graduation rate is about 44 percent, according to Timmerman.

“The other way that we grew the Promise Scholarship was by introducing a side-by-side component where donors also come alongside an individual to support them in other ways such as internships, practice interviews or calling them at college to see how things are going. This helps students navigate those road bumps,” Goorhouse said. “This is an important part beyond just paying for that scholarship.

“These are low-income students who are the first in their family to go to college.”

According to Goorhouse, the program needs additional support for the 20 scholarship recipients at any given time. That’s where the Community Foundation can step in and help the program continue to grow and be successful, he added.

“Our role has really been growing and getting that structure in place, so we can launch this partnership and double the size of the program,” Goorhouse said.

Every year since the inception of the program, the need has far outweighed the resources available. Timmerman said the number of applicants each school can offer up is based on the size of the institution.

“We’re controlling that number because of the amount of funds we have,” Goorhouse said. “As this grows, we can let more people in for the application process and award more scholarships.”

Students have to be nominated by their high school counselors or organizations such as Latin Americans United for Progress, the Boys & Girls Club of Holland, or Upward Bound career line tech center counselors, Timmerman said.

“They have to fill out application forms and then they move on to in-person interviews,” she said. “Typically, we have just over two nominations per school.”

Through a partnership with the Michigan College Access Network, college advisers work with juniors and seniors in Promise Scholarship-eligible schools and assist with college applications and visits and prepare students for higher education.

“Last year, one of our earliest scholarship recipients came back to Holland High School to be an adviser,” Timmerman said. “It’s a neat circle.”

While the Kalamazoo Promise endowment makes it possible to offer free college tuition to every public school student who meets eligibility requirements, Goorhouse said the Promise Scholarships are limited based on the dollars raised each year.

“In our case, we are picking students who are prepared for college,” Goorhouse said. “They know that a college degree is their ticket to a better future for themselves and their family.

“There are so many young people that don’t have the dollars. When you hear some of these stories, it’s pretty compelling. When you have to say no, you know that they likely won’t get a college degree and that will eat at you. I hope that by the community coming together, we can give them that chance.”

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