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Do you remember the childhood story of The Little Engine That Could? After bigger locomotives refuse to pull a long train over a seemingly unsurmountable mountain, a small engine takes on the task. “I -- think -- I -- can!” the engine puffs. It’s a story of triumph, of making it over that mountain, told by generations of parents. It also served as an encouraging metaphor that Theresa Libby used for South Portland High School Dollars for Scholars’ affiliation and subsequent success.
As many affiliates know, the decision to partner with Scholarship America Dollars for Scholars requires significant time and effort. Theresa, secretary for South Portland (Maine) High School Dollars for Scholars, helped motivate fellow members to make affiliation a reality. “Her references to The Little Engine That Could were a life-saver to me,” said Ralph Cabana, president of South Portland High School Dollars for Scholars. “I truly don’t know how we would have completed the affiliation process without her.” Thanks to her efforts, along with contributions from the rest of the board, the affiliate pulled through.
Theresa’s advocacy in supporting students stems from personal experience. “When I started working to get high school students scholarships, I had a son in college and a daughter who was a high school senior,” she said. As a parent, Theresa racked up years of volunteering for her children’s groups like the Robotics Team and the Music Boosters. Her efforts led to the head of the guidance department asking her to join the original South Portland Project Scholarship group in 2006. Fast forward four years, when the chance to affiliate as South Portland High School Dollars for Scholars appeared and Theresa saw the many benefits of being affiliated with a national organization.
“I have a background in IT, and my husband does, too. … When we saw ChapterNet's website and application processes it was clear that the potential was enormous. There were so many professional, quality tools and resources to utilize.” Thanks to her and her husband’s tech talents, South Portland High School Dollars for Scholars was one the first adopters of the online scholarship management tool.
This year with ChapterNet adoption, Theresa led senior students from the high school robotics team through the application using ChapterNet, getting nine kids signed up in an hour. With eight students who completed the application, all eight received robotics scholarships – and Dollars for Scholars scholarships – at the end of the school year. “There were even two students who ended up going to colleges that are Matching Collegiate Partners to Scholarship America,” she said. “That means they got a $500 Dollars for Scholars scholarship, a $650 robotics scholarship and their college will match both awards. How incredible is that?” This year, the total Matching Partner advantage is $7,000 for students!
If The Little Engine That Could were rewritten to incorporate South Portland High School Dollars for Scholars, it may be more apt to say that a local engine, alongside a national engine, made it over the peak. “Eight years ago, we gave $1,300,” Theresa said. “To the South Portland High School Class of 2014, we gave $53,000, with more ideas and more plans on the way.” She credits affiliation with Scholarship America as benefiting local students.
Theresa’s dedication to students doesn’t stop there. “I learned from a peer at the Finance Authority of Maine that the single biggest barrier for low-income students in starting college is filling out the FAFSA. It could be from a number of reasons: fear of completing it, not understanding how to complete it, or not having a computer at home to fill it out,” she said.
So, this school year – amongst keeping the affiliate’s website up-to-date, writing grant proposals, taking photos at fundraising events and producing flyers to increase community visibility – you’ll find Theresa talking to high school students about attending college, one by one, application by application. Other affiliate volunteers will also be spending more time helping individual students through the processes of filling out the FAFSA and applying for scholarships. “I’m just a volunteer,” Theresa said. “But this is something I can do to address a critical national need, which is educating our children."
To learn more about South Portland High School Dollars for Scholars, visit their website at southportlandhs.dollarsforscholars.org.
Scholarship America’s Dream Award is a renewable scholarship fund targeted toward completion. These annually-increasing awards will be given to students selected from across the nation who are entering their second year of education beyond high school.
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