George Handran and Andrea Roy serving on the scholarship committee
One of my favorite parts of working at Fountain House is serving on the academic scholarship committee. Three times a years, for two days at a time, I am privileged to hear first-hand accounts of the amazing things that members accomplish when their intelligence and tenacity are combined with the proper support.
The committee sees a range of students - from members who are trying a single class to test the waters before taking the full-on academic plunge to return applicants we’ve seen again and again on their way to completing associate’s, bachlelor’s, or even doctoral degrees.We also support a number of member-students who are working through certified vocational programs like cosmetology, auto mechanics, and culinary arts.
Fountain House has funded members pursuing their education for more than a decade, but over the last several years the application and interview process have evolved as our understanding of the value we add has changed. In the beginning, students would essentially just hit up Education Unit staff for the things that they needed. There was no formal process and little accountability. Fountain House was helping students in a material way, but it was missing an opportunity to engage the power of its community to support them.
Things began to change when the first scholarship committee was convened in 2006. Composed of funders, Board members, administrative staff (because program staff would potentially have conflicts of interest), and members, the committee then, in many ways, resembles the committee now. However, after a few rounds of interviews it was obvious that, even though staff workers were present to help advocate with members, the duos hadn’t discussed academic issues at all prior to the interview. Fountain House had a long history of members and staff working together around employment goals, but the clubhouse culture hadn’t caught up to the growing number of members with academic goals. The committee shone a light on that issue and provided a forum to improve the situation.
Over time, that’s exactly what has happened. Now it’s clear that the majority of applicants have worked closely with their worker, their unit, and the Education Unit to put together a complete and sensible educational plan. After all, $500 - the maximum scholarship award - doesn’t go very far in today’s educational arena, but it does give member-staff teams a starting point to talk about the member’s academic goals and to plan how best to sustain their efforts. Additionally, the scholarship committee gives members an opportunity to get feedback and encouragement from a segment of the larger Fountain House community. What Fountain House member doesn’t relish chatting with perennial committee member George Handran from The Sidney Baer Foundation? In this context, the scholarship becomes a tool to help build relationships - if it happens to pay for a few books or a continuing education course in the process, all the better.
Communications Director, Fountain House