Just 10 years ago, $1,000 was a lot of money for a struggling college student. It may have covered one-third of a year's tuition for in-state university students, or maybe two months room and board. Today, $1,000 barely pays for a year's worth of books.
"Ten years ago, $1,000 went a lot further than it does today," says Margie Davidson, treasurer for the Albina Rotary, which awards a $1,000 Neil Kelly Memorial Scholarship to four local students each year.
This year, in honor of the scholarship's 10th anniversary and the Neil Kelly Company's 60th birthday, the Albina Rotary wants to double its endowment fund and give scholarship recipients more money.
"If we can raise the additional $160,000, we can promise $1,000 over the next three years (to scholarship recipients), if their grades are good," Davidson says of the scholarships, which are financed by the fund's interest earnings.
Unlike many scholarships, which reward top academic achievers, the Neil Kelly Memorial Scholarship tries to honor the community activist legacy of its namesake.
Local entrepreneur Neil Kelly, who died in June 1995, was deeply involved in his community and volunteered for a variety of causes and organizations. His memorial scholarship rewards students in North or Northeast Portland who dedicate their time to volunteering in the community, or taking part in extra-curricular activities.
Jefferson High graduate Neal Brown, class of 2000, is a perfect example of a Neil Kelly scholarship recipient.
While attending Jefferson, Brown said he mentored younger students at Self Enhancement, Inc., volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, while also working a part-time job at UPS.
"That's the way I was raised … to help other people," he said. "I knew if I didn't work hard, I wouldn't make it through school."
When Brown was applying for colleges, he knew scholarships would have to be part of the equation. The 12 scholarships he received, including the Neil Kelly Memorial Scholarship, helped Brown earn a sociology degree from the University of Portland.
For Byron Kellar, a Neil Kelly employee and the Rotarian in charge of the application review committee, the scholarship represents more than just a monetary value. When it started a decade ago, the focus was on giving average students, who might not qualify for other assistance, a chance. Today, some of the scholarship recipients might have average grades (a minimum of 2.75 GPA is required), but their ability to give to their families and their community is way beyond average, Kellar says.
"I'll put our winners and applicants up against anyone. The things that these kids have overcome (is amazing)," Kellar says.
The Albina Rotary puts a heavy emphasis on community service — a main tenet of the Rotary organization is "service over self." Many scholarship recipients are students who mentored others at school, volunteered for outside organizations, helped out at home and held a part-time job for spending money. The students who turn in applications for this scholarship are so busy, Kellar wonders when they find time to sleep.
"One recipient said she got five hours a night," he says.
To pick the four annual scholarship recipients, a group of Rotarians, which varies each year from about five to 10 members, grade the candidates on their academic progress, community service, extra-curricular activities, need, references and the application itself.
In recent years, scholarship winners have included immigrant children as well as native Portlanders who have overcome tough economic and cultural obstacles. But the defining characteristic of a Neil Kelly scholarship winner is their dedication to community service.
"If they're volunteering for Habitat for Humanity when they're in high school, you can bet they're not going to stop four years from now," Kellar says.
The deadline for this year's scholarship applications is Saturday, March 24. Forms are available at any Portland-area school, although applicants must live in the North/Northeast Portland area — bordered on the east by 42nd Avenue, on the south by Broadway Avenue, and on the west and north by the Willamette and Columbia rivers. A fund-raising luncheon will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on May 11. For ticket information, or to make a tax-deductible donation, call Margie Davidson at 503-287-6930.