CHSSF works to keep sending SOMA students to college

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Columbia High School Scholarship Fund hosted its fifth annual cocktail reception for 120 guests at the Maplewood Club on Sept. 9 to raise money for the scholarships that will be distributed next May. The nonprofit awards need-based scholarships to graduates of Columbia High School to help fund their post-secondary education. In 2017, the CHSSF awarded $165,000 in scholarship money to 115 CHS graduates who are now pursuing their undergraduate and graduate degrees or study in medical, law or trade schools.

“It’s to raise funds, but we also see it as outreach,” CHSSF Vice President Brigid Casey said at the event, held at Maplewood Club on Ridgewood Road for the first time. “It’s to get our name out there as a charity and to allow people to get to know who we are.”

The scholarship fund was started in 1923 by CHS teacher Ida Grace Alexander. Since its inception, it has awarded $1.5 million to Columbia graduates to pursue a variety of different post-high school education paths. As of press time, the total funds raised at the event had not yet been tallied.

“It started with just donations,” Casey, whose three children graduated from CHS, said about the fund’s origins. “They were smaller amounts (of scholarship money), but it makes a real difference. Many students are the first in their family to go to college and what we’re seeing is what kids are studying is changing. Many are going into engineering and nursing and similar paths.”

This year, a sizeable donation was made to the CHSSF by the Woman’s Club of Maplewood.

“We always gave them a donation,” club President JoAnn Aponte said at the event. “I still get emails from students thanking us, and from parents saying they wouldn’t have been able to pay for college. It all goes back to the town.”

The money from the Woman’s Club large donation came from the sale of the group’s former home, The Woodland. Built for the club in 1930, the building was sold to the town of Maplewood in 2013. The board voted to donate $100,000 from the sale to the scholarship fund.

“We all voted on it and it was agreed to donate it to the children,” Aponte said. “It was a pleasure to do it. They were in shock, and we were in shock too. We weren’t expecting the response that we’ve gotten.”

Chima Asikaburu is a graduate student at Rutgers University and has been a recipient of scholarships from the CHSSF during his college years. The money helped him graduate and move on at Rutgers.

“The letter I got back from them had me in tears,” he said at the event. “They allowed me to finish paying for my classes and go back in the fall (for graduate school). My parents aren’t in a place where they can help me on my scholastic journey. I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who will help me reach the zenith of my potential.”

Sam Fagundez, a 2014 CHS graduate and a senior at Rutgers who is studying ecology, evolution and natural resources, echoed Asikaburu’s sentiments.

“My scholarship, almost to the dollar, is the difference between going to the school of liberal arts and the school of environmental and biological sciences,” Fagundez said. “These people are responsible for me being able to become a scientist.”

Fagundez plans to give back to the Columbia community.

“This doesn’t stop at me,” Fagundez said. “I’m going to go into the community and teach this and give it back.”

For Carl Adrien, this event was especially meaningful. Adrien is not only a trustee on the CHSSF board, but received scholarship funds from the CHSSF after he graduated from Columbia in 2002.

“I wasn’t always the best student and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to college, but then my parents told me I had to,” Adrien joked at the reception. “I got a scholarship, and you don’t want to throw away money. I wanted to make them proud.”

After he graduated, Adrien reached out to Casey to see what he could do to help the fund. He made a donation and volunteered, and then Casey asked if he wanted to be a trustee. Adrien has been on the board for the last five years.

“It’s given so much to me and I want to keep giving it back,” Adrien said. “If you make it out it’s your responsibility to take someone with you.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic