United Way seeks applicants for annual scholarship

Published 10:28 am Wednesday, January 5, 2022

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SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — One area organization is looking to recognize students who have given back to their communities.

United Way of Southwest Michigan is now accepting applications for its annual Volunteer United Youth Scholarships. One winner will be chosen from Berrien County, one will be chosen from Cass County, and one will be chosen from Van Buren County. Applicants must either live in or attend school in one of the three counties.

Each winner will receive a $1,000 scholarship made out on their behalf to their college, university, trade school, or institution of higher learning that offers post-secondary credentials. Only current high-school seniors are eligible.

The deadline to apply is Feb. 28. Those interested can apply at uwsm.org/nominate-a-volunteer.

Winning youth volunteers will demonstrate a commitment to volunteerism through creativity, dedication and advocacy for community improvement, United Way officials said.

“We believe it is important to applaud and reward young people who are seeking to develop their leadership skills and their character by giving back to their community,” said Jennifer Tomshack, director of marketing and communications for United Way. “It’s so gratifying to read some of the things these applicants say about how volunteering at a young age has shaped them as people, as the adults they are going to become.”

In 2021, the Volunteer United Youth Scholarships were awarded to Sarah Jannings, of Lake Michigan Catholic High School (attending Saint Mary’s College); Drew Bidwell, of Edwardsburg High School (attending Hope College); and South Haven resident Hahna Gorenz, of Michigan Lutheran High School (attending Southwestern Michigan College).

“Every year, we are inspired by the applicants for this award. To see leadership and character in a young person who wants to give their time and talents to their community is a great indicator of their future success and happiness,” said Debbie Ramirez, director of volunteer engagement at United Way of Southwest Michigan.

Tomshack agreed, saying it was important to recognize youth volunteerism, as it encourages life-long giving.

“The habits you form when you are a young person tend to stick with you, and forming good habits, all kinds of good habits, when you are a kid turns you into a fabulous adult,” she said.

Tomshack said she would encourage any local high school senior who has volunteered to apply for the scholarship.

“It’s about the quality of the experience vs. the quantity,” Tomshack said. “If you can explain to us what the experience has meant to you and what you have learned from it and what you have been able to give to others through that, that says as much as the quantity of volunteer experience you might have. … I would say to someone, ‘don’t feel like you aren’t qualified just because you’ve only had one volunteer experience. You might be able to tell us about the impact of that experience, and that is certainly worth considering.’”