For more than a decade, Southeast Polk Dollars for Scholars has been providing scholarships to young people to help them further their education.
The Southeast Polk Dollars for Scholars chapter was established in 2001. The scholarship program is focused on supporting students’ educational goals, whatever they may be — whether it’s trade school, a four-year university, community college or cosmetology school.
The first year, three scholarships were awarded, says chairman Roger Mahnke. This year, they gave away 328 scholarships, with a value of $446,900.
“I think our basic goal is to give everyone who is deserving of a scholarship, funds,” Mahnke says.
Many in the community have shown their commitment and support. Annually, more than 100 groups, businesses, organizations, individuals and others decide to donate, with more donors stepping up each year, Mahnke says.
“The one thing I can’t get over is the community support that we get each year,” he says. “I think we have a very caring community who wants to support their youth in going to the next level of their education.”
Through Dollars for Scholars, students fill out one basic scholarship application, which will make them eligible for about 200 scholarships.
There are scholarships directly funded by contributions made to Dollars for Scholars, as well as “flow through” scholarships.
Of the money raised by the chapter, 70 percent goes into an endowment fund, with the remaining 30 percent, plus interest off of the investments, used for scholarships.
“Currently we have around $330,000 accumulated in the endowment fund for future scholarships,” Mahnke says. “As that endowment grows, that day is going to come where every youngster that applies will get something.”
For flow through scholarships, individuals, businesses and organizations provide all of the funds, but Dollars for Scholars administers them, taking care of the paperwork.
Mahnke says from 2001 to 2013, there have been 427 Dollars for Scholars scholarships awarded, valued at $213,500; there have been 1,694 flow through scholarships, totaling approximately $1.1 million.
One reason why the community has backed Dollars for Scholars is that the organization has established credibility by monitoring scholarships and setting up specific criteria for who receives funds, Mahnke says. They also make sure contributors are recognized with “thank yous,” list their donations in a recognition book and provide posters for businesses that indicate they’re supporters.
“We do a lot with recognition because we feel that people who give should be recognized,” he says.
There are a range of opportunities to donate to Dollars for Scholars. Fundraising efforts include: a payroll deduction for Southeast Polk employees; golf tournaments; a “Hat Day” at elementary schools, where students donate 50 cents and get to wear their favorite hat; “Crops for Scholars,” where farmers can donate grain instead of cash and get a tax break; and an annual fundraiser with Hy-Vee in Altoona, which donates 3 percent of grocery receipts collected up to $2,000 during a weekend.
Their largest fundraiser is an annual dinner/auction, Mahnke says. Last year, the event brought in approximately $35,000. It’s set to take place Oct. 19 and will be held in Southeast Polk High School’s commons area.
Students receiving scholarships, and their parents, expressed gratitude not just for the financial assistance Dollars for Scholars provides but the commitment on the part of the community to support them in their future careers.
Ryan Zinnel received a $500 scholarship from D & S Facilities of Marshalltown. This fall, he plans to go into the electronics, robotics and automation program at Des Moines Area Community College.
“It’s awesome. It helps out,” he says of the award.
Ryan, who likes working with his hands, says he’s looking forward to what he thinks will be a challenging program, as well as the new experiences, people and classroom setting at DMACC.
After college, he’d like to work at a factory such as John Deere or 3M, as an electrician on the shop floor or conducting repairs on machines.
While the financial assistance is important, so is the fact that students are seeing that companies are backing them up to continue their education, says Ryan’s mom, Michele Zinnel.
“It’s wonderful for all of these seniors every year to have that opportunity to apply for and receive funds,” she says.
Twin sisters Grace and Corrina Slings are headed to Luther College in Decorah. They each received six scholarships through Dollars for Scholars.
Those awards, in addition to a scholarship through the college, means they will not have loans their first year of school, says Corrina.
“I’m really grateful for it,” she says of Dollars for Scholars.
Her plans are to double major in biology and Spanish, then go into alternative medicine.
Being away at school will also give her the chance to gain more responsibility, says Corrina, who would like to join a couple of clubs and try out Ultimate Frisbee her first year.
Grace says Southeast Polk’s Dollars for Scholars is an “amazing” program.
“It’s grown a lot, hugely, in the past few years in the amounts of donations and scholarships given away,” says Grace, who growing up watched other students receive scholarships, and was inspired to work hard so she could, too. “If we didn’t have it, a lot of people would be a lot less financially prepared.”
She would like to see other schools incorporate a similar program to help students, especially with the price of college increasing.
Grace would like to double major in pre-medicine and Spanish. She has, for a while, considered a career in oncology, but became more serious about it when her brother was diagnosed with leukemia, she says.
She’s excited to start college, living on her own and making new friends with her sister at her side.
“We’re like the dynamic duo,” she says.
The twins’ mother, Lori Slings, is one of the directors with Dollars for Scholars and has been with them for about 10 years. She is usually on the scholarship selection committee but was not this year because of her daughters.
Slings says she’s thankful for the generosity and care of the community and scholarship contributors, and she hears similar sentiments from graduates as well.
“I hear from past graduates every day, every week, every month, wherever I am, I run into someone impacted from a scholarship from Dollars for Scholars,” she says. She relayed the story of a student going into a trade whose $500 scholarship was used to buy the tools needed to get started in a career.
“What you hear from the kids is that they can’t believe that this school, this community, cares enough to give them $500 to help them get started,” Slings says.
Financially, the program is a big help because “every little, teeny bit that doesn’t have to be put on a student loan is just a blessing,” she says.
While the community is very engaged in the program, Slings says there are many parents who aren’t aware of it until their child is receiving an award on scholarship night.
She’d like to see more parents get involved and understand that fundraising is happening now for their kids that are in preschool and kindergarten in the Southeast Polk school district.
“I want them to know that it’s going on every day of every week of every month,” Slings says.
Fundraising efforts aren’t just something to be supported by parents of high school seniors; she’d like to see everyone involved.
One way is to attend the Dollars for Scholars annual benefit dinner and live/silent auction.
“It’s the most inspiring evening, and the one that makes you appreciate living in the Southeast Polk community,” Slings says. “These people love these students and they want them to succeed in their future.”
Altoona Hy-Vee has been proud to partner with Dollars for Scholars since 2006, says store director Jen Book.
“This is a great organization in our community,” Book says. “I am amazed every year how much the community members and businesses strive to help Dollars for Scholars.”
Hy-Vee’s contributions include a weekend where 3 percent of the receipts collected from shoppers — up to $2,000 — will go to the program.
Hy-Vee has also donated to other fundraising events, including the dinner and auction put on by Dollars for Scholars, as well as the soup supper held by the Lions, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, Book says.
The first PTA to give to their scholarship program was from Altoona Elementary, Mahnke says.
The group awards two, $500 scholarships annually, says Angie Holloway, Altoona Elementary PTA president.
“We feel it is important to support Dollars for Scholars because it is a wonderful way to continue to support some of our former Altoona Elementary students,” Holloway says. “We believe they get a great start to their education here and we want to reward them for continuing to work hard all the way through high school. These scholarships are a way for us to acknowledge the students’ achievements and to encourage them to excel in the future.”