Since 2006, a program has helped Near West students pay for college, and get the support needed to complete their degrees.
Dollars for Scholars, a chapter of Scholarship America, was created by Near West community members and IPS George Washington Community High School. Since then, the program has invested $350,000 in scholarships for students. For students attending IUPUI, each of the scholarships is matched by IUPUI.
The chapter was created as part of the overall plan when George Washington High School was reopened for the community. The goal was to help fund college and career programming for students in the neighborhood, said Jim Grim, IUPUI Office of Community Engagement Director of University/School Community Partnerships.
Ann Kreicker, Community Schools Coordinator, said she has learned through her work with the community that students, many of whom are first generation college students, and their families often need help navigating the transition from high school to college.
“Many are first generation, and navigating college is difficult. Families want to help, but they just don’t know what to do,” she said.
Money is a big need, but that isn’t all students and families need, Ann said. Students and families also need help with filing college applications, navigating financial aid, and finding support when running into challenges and barriers, she said.
“Sometimes kids just need someone to be there to call when things get confusing,” Ann said.
The program stays with students, connecting them with community members and volunteers, along with local companies, including Lilly, who help provide needed support and resources, she said. Other businesses offer scholarships, training for careers, such as in welding, and one-on-one mentoring for students.
In addition, after learning from students who began struggling after their freshman year, the program also has grown its renewal scholarship offerings, allowing students to apply for additional funding as they continue with college, Ann said. The local chapter has been recognized for its work with renewal scholarships and mentoring.
She remembered one student who was nearly done with his classes, but needed help buying books because he had run out of money. The scholarship helped that student finish, she said.
Scholarship America has recognized the local chapter’s work with renewal scholarships by offering matching funds of $10,000 multiple times, Jim said.
“It’s not just a one-time scholarship; they can stay with us and reapply. Scholarships are plentiful as freshman, but then it becomes more difficult. Students can be left with a mound of debt,” Ann said.
In addition, the program gives the Near West community a chance to support its students, she said.
Each year, one of the top fundraisers for the program is Taste of the Westside, where local restaurants donate food, and students who have received scholarships serve the food to community members who donate to support the program. IUPUI also sponsors the event, covering some costs so Dollars for Scholars can use the money raised to support the program, Ann said.
In the most recent event earlier this year, the event raised more than $5,600 for the program, Ann said.
“It’s more than that. It’s a way for those small businesses to feel like they are changing students’ lives. And it’s a way for the community to meet the students whose lives they are changing, who can say ‘I graduated this year, and it’s because of you,'” Ann said.