Affliate Spotlight: Cambridge-Isanti Dollars for Scholars

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06 MAY 2014
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In 1958, the founder of Dollars for Scholars, Dr. Irving Fradkin, believed that if everyone in a community gave a dollar, the community could help its students pay for an education beyond high school. Over 50 years later, citizens of the neighboring rural cities of Cambridge and Isanti in central Minnesota proved once again that Dr. Fradkin was right.

On April 7 and 8, high school seniors got on the phone and asked residents to contribute to the Dollars for Scholars scholarship fund during an annual phone-a-thon event. Nearly 700 people responded, with donations ranging in size from $10 to $1,000 -- raising a total of close to $20,000.

"Every year, we’re amazed at the donations that we get from the phone-a-thon. The community just pours the money into these students," said Cindy Szafranski, board member of Cambridge-Isanti Dollars for Scholars.

Scholarship America was there to capture the moment on film, and interview key Dollars for Scholars leaders and supporters for an upcoming series of promotional videos. These videos will feature several Dollars for Scholars affiliates and events from across the country, showcasing the spirit and impact this program continues to have more than a half century after its humble beginnings in Fall River, Massachusetts.

It didn’t take long to see and hear the impact Dollars for Scholars has had in Cambridge-Isanti. In fact, Cindy herself experienced the support of her community 20 years ago. A former student of Cambridge-Isanti High School and recipient of two Dollars for Scholars scholarships, she fondly recalls the feeling of receiving those funds. “I was amazed and thankful for people investing in me and thinking about my future,” she said. When Cindy was approached to join Dollars for Scholars nearly 10 years ago, she didn’t hesitate to give back to the program that helped her.

In Cambridge-Isanti, Cindy’s story of receiving a scholarship, getting an education beyond high school and coming back to the area to live and work is not unique. Cindy sees former scholarship recipients every year who come back to town to raise their own children and contribute to Dollars for Scholars. She believes that Dollars for Scholars is a vehicle that pulls citizens, schools and businesses together in a joint effort for education. Her own employer, Cambridge State Bank, has been a financial supporter and sponsor of Dollars for Scholars since its inception over 25 years ago -- the bank’s motto is “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

For Cambridge and Isanti, this investment in education has paid off. According to Ray Hoheisel, President of Cambridge-Isanti Dollars for Scholars and former superintendent of the school district, the area used to be one of the poorest in the state, with the lowest percentage of students continuing their education beyond high school. But in the mid-1980s, the school board -– with Ray’s leadership -- created a goal to increase the number of students pursuing a postsecondary education. Ray believes the advent of Dollars for Scholars in Cambridge and Isanti was a big part of that effort. “Dollars for Scholars validates the importance of education in a community,” Ray said. He believes it’s not only important as needed financial support for students, but for the awareness it brings to communities and the vehicle it provides to allow everyone a chance to participate. “When you give your money, whether its $500, $1,000 or $25 to someone you don’t know, or [will] probably never meet, it’s a positive message for the importance of education."

Prior to Dollars for Scholars, Ray said the college scholarship program in the school district was practically non-existent. He was thrilled when he heard that community members and businesses like the bank were starting a Dollars for Scholars program. He appreciated that the effort was being led by concerned and committed citizens outside of the school district. He quickly signed on as a supporter and went to his first meeting in 1989, serving as an ex officio member of the board for eight years. After he retired from the school district, the Dollars for Scholars board asked him to return to serve as president. He has thoroughly enjoyed his long tenure with Dollars for Scholars and feels lucky to be a part of something that ties him back to education and keeps him so engaged in the community.

While it’s clear when listening to Ray that he believes his hometown is special, he also firmly believes that every neighborhood has the capacity to bring Dr. Fradkin’s vision to life. “I’m convinced that any community can start and have a successful Dollars for Scholars program,” he said. Ray sees the key ingredients as a mix of dedicated volunteers and leaders, a good partnership between the school district and the organization and “an absolute desire” for the community to help students finance their education beyond high school. And for Cambridge-Isanti, the annual phone-a-thon remains a pillar of their community’s desire to support their students.

To learn more about Cambridge-Isanti Dollars for Scholars, visit their website at ci.dollarsforscholars.org.

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