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By anyone’s measure, an annual fundraising auction that raises $150,000 would be considered a success. So when you consider that Yelm Dollars for Scholars operates in a town of only 7,000 people, the measure of success is off the charts! Located about 20 miles southeast of Olympia, Washington and near the beautiful snowcapped peaks of Mount Rainier, Yelm is a tightknit community of both established and new residents who take pride in their Dollars for Scholars organization. This pride shows in the hundreds of volunteers, donors and sponsors who give every year in support of their students.
According to Yelm Dollars for Scholars board president, Rochelle Harris, the annual spring auction takes almost an entire year to plan, with the entire board of directors involved in the planning, and pitching in to help. During the event, current high school students are enlisted to help out at the silent auction tables; high school seniors are invited to hold up auction items during the live auction, as well as participate in a parade of seniors prior to the live auction; and former scholarship recipients are also invited to volunteer, with many of them sharing their scholarship stories during the event.
The Yelm Dollars for Scholars annual auction is an example of the power of community – a hallmark of the Dollars for Scholars program since its inception in 1958, when Dr. Irving Fradkin asked everyone in his community to give a dollar to support students going to college. In fact, among the many qualities that make a Dollars for Scholars organization like Yelm so successful, broad community engagement and support is a key ingredient. The leaders of Yelm Dollars for Scholars know this and have fostered a Dollars for Scholars culture that is integrated in all parts of the community, from businesses and area schools, to civic clubs and religious organizations. According to Harris, “Everybody in the community is tied into Dollars for Scholars in some way.”
Of course, it takes some special individuals to bring all of the ingredients together and Yelm Dollars for Scholars has a diverse and committed group of volunteers that continue the long-standing tradition of scholarship giving in the community. Founded by “head chef” Bob Wolf, along with his wife, Kathy, Yelm Dollars for Scholars has developed over time into a fruitful and prosperous organization and a pillar of the community. Bob has lived in Yelm all his life, and in 1961 he helped to start the Yelm Scholarship Committee. After growing the scholarships through various community fundraisers, Bob and the Yelm Scholarship Committee became a Dollars for Scholars affiliate chapter in 1996. When asked what his fondest memory has been over the past 53 years, without hesitation Bob replied, “Everything.”
While Bob has retired from the board of directors, he stays engaged in the work of Dollars for Scholars by reading and scoring student essays, funding a scholarship in his family’s name, being an “evangelizer” by talking about Dollars for Scholars to anyone who will listen, and of course, supporting the annual auction which he helped to start. According to Mary Lou Clemens, long-time volunteer and current Awards Chair, “kids love him and he is a mentor for all of us.” After five decades of involvement with Yelm Dollars for Scholars, Bob is still amazed at his community’s deep commitment and all the wonderful people he gets to work with.
Yelm Dollars for Scholars benefits from its long history and deep commitment from former leaders like Bob, but the organization never rests on its laurels. “It’s constantly evolving. We try new things, bring in new blood, and work together as a team. Nothing has to be set in stone,” says Harris. As a six year resident of Yelm, Harris herself is an example of how the organization welcomes new community members and gets them engaged.
Another example of “new blood” is JoAnn Hegemann, one of Yelm’s newest residents and Dollars for Scholars volunteers. She was introduced by Terry Mensonides, the school career counselor, who enthusiastically promoted the scholarships to kids and got Hegemann involved when Mensonides was no longer able to play that role due to health reasons. Hegemann quickly took up the charge, and this year is helping students complete the new online application. Thanks to her efforts and those of many other volunteers, Yelm Dollars for Scholars received over 20 more applications this year than last year, including applications for the first time from the community’s alternative learning school.
Outreach to students is a big focus for Yelm Dollars for Scholars. According to Hegemann, the work of getting scholarships in students’ hands is more important than ever. “I hear too many kids and parents talk about not being able to afford college.” That’s why this year Yelm Dollars for Scholars beefed up its efforts to ensure students knew about the scholarships, the process for applying and the submission deadline. In addition to the usual efforts of setting up booths at the college fair, homecoming and the high school information meeting for incoming freshman, outreach efforts included attention-grabbing posters put up around the high school promoting the financial benefits of filling out an application.
While not every student will be able to fund their entire college career with scholarships from Yelm Dollars for Scholars, they do anticipate being able to offer $130,000 in aid to students this year, while continuing to reach their goal of establishing a $1 million endowment to ensure future generations of students are able to realize their dreams of continuing their education beyond high school.
To learn more about Yelm Dollars for Scholars, visit their website at yelm.dollarsforscholars.org.
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