MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Columbia High School alumni and students gathered in the school’s library for the annual Columbia High School Scholarship Fund reception June 7, to meet the donors who provided the funds for their scholarships and share their continuing education plans. The 95-year-old nonprofit organization has given away more than $1.3 million in scholarships to 2,000 students. This year, the fund gave approximately $158,000 to 114 seniors and graduates.
“The scholarships we award can be used for any post-secondary education,” CHSSF Vice President Brigid Casey said at the reception. “We support any variety because we believe in education. No one gives away more than we do. Today we get to meet the newest group of students, and we can’t wait for you to come back next year and tell us how you’re doing.”
CHSSF President Madeline Tugentman began the reception with a tribute to Joan Lee, a past president of the organization, who died in September. A South Orange resident, Lee led the CHSSF fund for more than 10 years.
“She was really shameless because you didn’t see it coming when she asked,” Tugentman joked, saying that Lee would ask anyone she met to donate to the fund. “We are going to move forward by continuing with her legacy, because young people are her legacy.”
According to Tugentman, CHS seniors and graduates fill out scholarship applications in March and mid-April; in May, the organization’s Selection Committee meets with school guidance counselors and decides which students will be awarded the funding.
“The awards come out and we get to see you, and a lot of times we don’t see you again, but we start to root for you,” Tugentman told the students at the event. “All the Columbia High School Scholarship Fund does is raise money for you.”
Community leaders and organizations who have donated to the CHSSF were at the reception, including Maplewood Rotary Club President David Beni and Maplewood Woman’s Club President Jo Ann Aponte. And CHSSF trustees who attended CHS were also there, like Carl Adrien, who has been a trustee for six years.
“I really appreciate what was given to me, so I wanted to give back,” Adrien, a 2002 CHS graduate, said at the event. “It motivated me to see the community and see who was behind me. Hopefully four years from now you come back and want to give to the community that gave to you.”
Acting Superintendent of Schools Thomas Ficarra expressed his admiration for the CHSSF at the reception.
“I’ve been a super for 23 years and I’ve never seen a stronger, more potent fundraising effort in all the districts I’ve been in, and I’ve been in five or six,” he said at the event. “I’d like to thank the board members for managing it. But without the donors there would be nothing to manage, so thank you to them.”
Jacqueline Cusack, the executive director of the Center for Pre-College Programs at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and a past trustee of the CHSSF, was the guest speaker at the event. Cusack read part of a 1995 New York Times article about Oseola McCarty, a woman who donated her $150,000 in savings to fund scholarships for students to attend the University of Southern Mississippi.
“There are people here you may never read about who will help you complete your education,” Cusack told the students after she finished reading. “Reflect on three of the people who helped you along the way. There are times when you are the recipient and there are times when you can give. I hope the CHSSF will figure into your giving. I promise, when you have the experience of giving you will never be the same.”
CHS Principal Elizabeth Aaron, while not a graduate of the school that she leads, described the financial help that she received as a high school senior and the impact it made on her choice of college.
“There was a school I could kind of afford and one I could not without scholarships,” Aaron said at the event. “The first decision I got to make, I made because people invested in me. You are surrounded today by people who believe in you.”
Scholarship recipient Elijah Evans will be graduating from CHS in a few weeks and heading to William Paterson University to major in sports management. Evans played basketball for the Cougars for four years, and wants to remain in the athletic field.
“If playing isn’t an option I wanted to stay in that field,” Evans said in an interview with the News-Record at the event. “And I like planning and working with teams.”
Evans said the CHSSF scholarship was a big help when he was deciding where to continue his education.
“It’s great, I have to thank them for donating,” he said. “Otherwise it would come out of my parents’ pocket and that can be stressful, so it helps a lot.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic