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September 25, 2012 > ScholarMatch - a path to college dreams

ScholarMatch - a path to college dreams

By Miriam G. Mazliach, Photo courtesy of Yvonne Winer

Yvonne Winer, a recent graduate of Hayward charter school, Leadership Public Schools (LPS), is experiencing the joys of her freshman year at UCLA, thanks to the support of ScholarMatch. The nonprofit organization, founded in 2010 by philanthropist and author Dave Eggers, utilizes the technology of an innovative online platform to connect donors with students needing financial assistance to make their college dreams a reality.

Through the organization's website, potential donors can read about, view video profiles and get to know amazing scholars who need "a helping hand" for college tuition. Additionally, donors, via tax-deductible donations, invest in a student's future.

"The website is a platform for students to tell their stories and for donors to invest and contribute to scholarships," states ScholarMatch Executive Director, Diana Adamson. "If necessary, the organization can pool together donations from a group of donors [to fund a scholarship], dependent on the student's need."

ScholarMatch is an offshoot of "826 Valencia," a successful writing and tutorial center begun in 2002 by educator Nínive Calegari and author Eggers, to help students ages 6 - 18, in San Francisco's Mission District. "Over the years, there was a dramatic increase and need for more scholarships for those hopefuls graduating from the 826 Program," says Adamson. "Dave Eggars was the impetus for the creation of ScholarMatch, a separate organization to address just scholarships," she adds.

Students, besides those previously involved with the 826 Valencia program, can be nominated for ScholarMatch by a mentor, a teacher or community organization.

"The counselors at LPS called me and a few classmates into their office to tell us about the ScholarMatch program," says Winer. "They knew each of us were the most likely to apply for the scholarship. My counselor and World History teacher nominated me."

Quite active at her high school, Winer founded "Travel For A Cause" and participated in Walk Against Genocide and Habitat for Humanity. She also earned an impressive list of honors including a Certificate of Merit at National Young Leaders Conference in Washington D.C. (2011), Award for Excellence: English (2011) and World History (2010), and Captain Planet Award for world mindfulness (2011).

The ScholarMatch application consisted of a personal statement and letter of recommendation. "I created a profile of myself for donors," says Winer. "It was nice because it was a similar process that I used for college applications."

Executive Director Adamson explains that the organization gives students on the "college track," the support they need. "The organization works with the students during their senior high school year to access all resources and help fund the remaining gap need." Additionally, ScholarMatch provides other necessary services for students such as: drop-in financial-aid assistance, help with the college application process, resume writing and various college readiness workshops.

"I am so grateful to ScholarMatch. They offered a financial aid workshop in which a staff member literally sat down with my mom and I and went through each of my college financial aid reports. It was really helpful." Winer says that relatives on her mom's side of the family did not have the financial support necessary to attend college but she received encouragement to dream big. "Some of my friends had parents who told them to stay local for college, but my mom always told me "follow your passion" regardless of the distance it took me. Her support was the single most influential factor of my college experience."

To serve as many students as possible, ScholarMatch raises funds a year in advance of distribution. "Last year we gave out $99,000 in scholarships to 43 students," states Adamson. "This year we are dispensing $130,000 via 70 scholarships. The goal for next year is $190,000 and 90 scholarships." She points out that the organization needs to ensure that it doesn't over-commit and has adequate funds to support the program.

"ScholarMatch continues to support students for four years (or more) as long as they remain in good standing with the organization and their school." Adamson adds, "Our scholarships are not guaranteed [dependent on donations], but we limit the number of students we take so that we can come close to reaching all their goals, if not fulfilling them completely. Students remain eligible each year to receive their scholarship again and we budget accordingly." The goal is to expand ScholarMatch beyond the Bay Area and serve the needs of even more students.

All donors receive a "thank you" note from their sponsored student, usually addressed as "Dear Donor." Twice during the academic year, students update their donor, usually after the first and second semesters. According to Adamson, "Sometimes students and donors really connect and wish to interact more directly. If that is mutually agreeable, the organization will facilitate." She feels that this process benefits the student but also signifies intangible benefits that the donor gets as well. "All student scholarship recipients this year are first generation. It's great for them to know someone is invested in them - a stranger helping them, supporting them, who has confidence in them. Going on this journey gives them extra confidence. The donor feels like it is their opportunity to pay it forward and give someone else a helping hand, perhaps like someone who had helped them."

This summer, in preparation for academic life at UCLA, ScholarMatch program recipient Winer participated in the "Freshman Summer Program (FSP). She says, "During the rigorous 6-week academic program, students live on campus and take three classes, depending on if they are writing intensive (like me) or science intensive. These are college courses that affect our GPA (grade point average), and we get a lot of support from the Academic Advancement Program. FSP is almost completely free for students. We are all low-income, minority, and/or first generation students."

"I adore UCLA. I had applied to seven schools and was accepted into five of them," Accordingly, Winer says that a major consideration in her decision was that UCLA offered an adequate level of financial aid. In addition, from ScholarMatch, Winer received a scholarship of $3,913 for her first year and renewable for four years as long as she still has financial need and remains in good standing at UCLA and with ScholarMatch.

Winer's field of study is International Development, the study of countries in poverty. After UCLA, she hopes to be able to attend Columbia University for graduate studies. "I want to work in the United Nations for a few years, then branch off into the private sector to do genocide prevention work," she says.

Reflecting on this new chapter in her life, Winer comments, "The transition [from Bay Area high schooler to Southern California college student] is exactly what I needed. I wanted to explore the world, and my ambitions are finally coming to fruition. I think my transition has been really smooth because I was so desperate to experience the world. It has been exciting to meet so many new people, and I am doing well academically. Applying for scholarships is arduous, but the satisfaction of knowing how hard you worked to stay in school makes everything worth it. I am so grateful to ScholarMatch for allowing me to pursue higher education and a better life."

For more information, or to view student videos and support the efforts of the ScholarMatch program, visit www.scholarmatch.org or call (415) 652-2766.

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