This summer the Greenwich Scholarship Association mailed checks totaling more than $500,000 to colleges and universities around the country to help defray the tuition of more than 125 local students.
For close to fifty years the local nonprofit has been relying on a dedicated team of pay-it-forward minded volunteers to connect deserving local high schoolers with financial need to college scholarships, many of them funded by local civic groups and families. Much of the behind-the-scenes work is done by an all-volunteer team led by GSA’s co- presidents Juliet Schnur and Catherine Holden, themselves the moms of school-age children. The duo brings a strong personal commitment to the nonprofit’s legacy of delivering dollars to some of the town’s most deserving scholars.
Catherine’s mother, Dr. Marie J. Hertzig, along with William Dylewsky, helped launch the GSA and build the all-volunteer organization from the ground up with just $80,000 in donated seed money. Marie retired last year.
“We all operate with my mother’s philosophy that college can be a really transformative thing, especially for students who grow up in less-than-ideal circumstances,” says Catherine.
“The overall theme is that we’re going for the underdogs,” explains Juliet. “There’s that subset of kids who are really amazing and get a full ride somewhere, but there’s another group of kids—also outstanding—that just don’t get that kind of opportunity. The majority of the kids who get our scholarships are going to state schools, because that’s what they can afford. And sometimes, even that’s a stretch. This is where we try to come in.”
As another school year kicks off, Juliet and Catherine share what it takes to help kids make it to campus.
Getting a GSA scholarship requires an A for effort. The nonprofit requires a detailed application similar to the Common App required for admissions to most colleges and universities. GSA volunteers also dive into students’ financial-aid forms. Next comes an interview with a GSA volunteer. “In other words, we ask a lot from them,” says Juliet.
After the initial vetting, Catherine leads an elaborate process matching qualified students with “just right” scholarships. Criteria range from grades to their commitment to public service, the sports they play or other noteworthy details in their backgrounds. “It’s like a giant puzzle where we try to figure out who fits where,” she explains.
Of the 200 or so applicants GSA considers each year, about 125 receive some kind of award, many in excess of $10,000.
In a few cases, where students demonstrate great financial need, the GSA has pitched in with college essentials like laptop computers. “We’ve gone to the Apple Store and then dropped them off at students’ homes,” says Juliet. “It’s not a common thing, but for some kids we take that approach because that’s what they need.”
The list of awards in the GSA’s scholarship vault reads like a voluminous course catalog. While it distributes scholarships sponsored by organizations such as the Red Cross, the Greenwich Women’s Club and The First Selectmen’s Youth Commission, many have been funded as posthumous memorials by local families as well as Greenwich-based neighborhood, professional and athletic associations. Some require sky high GPAs, while others are tied to students pursuing specific fields of study or some distinct defining trait.
“It can be something like this is for a student studying graphic design or French or in recognition of a sport they played,” Catherine explains. “Or it can be a scholarship that’s specifically targeted toward a student who has overcome something significant in their life.”
HOW TO HELP
The GSA team doesn’t fundraise in a throw-a-gala kind of way. “We’re just stretched too thin to do that,” Juliet says. Instead, its volunteers rely on the generosity of donors who endow—and sometimes do their own fundraising—for scholarships.
Volunteers can also get involved by signing on to conduct scholarship interviews. “It can be really rewarding to be involved that way,” says Juliet. greenwichscholarshipassociation.org