When Sandpoint Rotary was first formed in 1966, it began a long-standing tradition in our community. Now, 50 years later, the club is not only thriving but it has continued to expand and grow its tradition of awarding scholarships to deserving young students who are seeking to continue their education post high school.
“This year we gave away approximately 14 scholarships worth between $13,000 and $14,000,” said public relations chairman of the Sandpoint Rotary Club, Pierce Smith. “That first year in 1966 Sandpoint Rotary awarded $200 in scholarships.”
This year awards were also given to those who plan to attend vocational school. Unlike many of the other local scholarships that are awarded, Rotary scholarship applicants are eligible to receive an award all four years of college, making it easier for those who may need the financial assistance to continue after the first year.
Smith estimated that five of their scholarship awards this year were to those who had already completed their freshman year. “Two scholarships were also awarded jointly with the Ponderay Rotary Club,” said Smith.
If there is one thing that both Smith and fellow Rotarian Steve Verby wish to emphasize, it is that students need to apply in order to receive any award. “Wherever you are on the academic spectrum, if you want a scholarship, you have to put your name out there,” said Smith.
When reviewing the scholarship applications, the Rotary scholarship committee looks at academics but also look to those students who follow the philosophy of Rotary. “Service above self,” said Verby.
It is that characteristic that scholarship recipient Corinne Ariss believes helped her receive her second scholarship from Rotary as she now enters her sophomore year.
Corinne regularly visits her father during the summer months in Ecuador. While there one summer, she interacted with local kids and played soccer with them. When she returned the following year, she did so with enough funds and equipment to host a soccer camp for the local kids. “I had about 30 kids in the camp,” said Corinne, a former SHS varsity soccer player.
Recently, Corinne spoke at a Rotary luncheon where she shared with them her plans to attend Montana State University this fall and thanked them for the assistance they have provided her while she pursues her education. It is the second time she has extended her thanks in person at one of their luncheons. “It is nice to be able to thank everyone in person for the scholarship,” she said.
In addition to his role as public relations chair for Sandpoint Rotary, Smith also serves as the advisor to the Interact Club at Sandpoint High School, a Rotary Club for students that is sponsored by both Sandpoint and Ponderay Rotary. The local Rotary clubs provide support and guidance to the students, but the youth club is self-governing and self-supporting.
Madison Sleyster, a 2015 Sandpoint High School graduate, was a member of the SHS Interact Club and plans to be involved in Rotary throughout her life.
“It was wonderful to work side by side with such generous Rotarians who were supporting our club and making everything we did possible,” said Madison. “The Rotarians that attended our meetings really helped pique my interest in Rotary and all it has to offer.”
Madison, who attends the University of Denver, is a biology major with a minor in psychology with a concentration in cognitive neuroscience. She received scholarships from Rotary for the past two years and is grateful. She has twice attended a weeklong Rotary camp for students 18 to 25 years of age; an experience she said is indescribable. “We attend leadership sessions every day for the entirety of the week,” said Madison. “It was such an amazing and inspiring experience.”
The students applying for scholarships from Rotary fill out a common application that is then reviewed by the seven individuals on the scholarship committee. They are then invited to an interview. It is an extensive process or the selection committee and one they take seriously.
The assistance that Rotary provides to students is not just through scholarships. They also support them in other ways as well. They awarded $3,800 to the aerotech program, directed by Barney Ballard, so they could purchase a crank shaft for the airplane they are building.
There is also a Rotary International student exchange program. Students from here travel overseas to study and other students come here and are hosted by both Rotarian and non-Rotarian families. Rotary will provide approximately $2,000 to each student to help with his or her expenses of traveling and staying overseas.
Helping these students in our community is just one of many things that Rotary does. And what may seem like a small gesture of support to the Rotarians can be a life-changing gift to our youth. “To me, Rotary’s mission is to better the local community and the world through service towards others and a willingness to aid in any way possible,” said Madison. “I am definitely interested in joining Rotary as an adult because the way the Rotarians give and help the community and the world is so inspiring.”