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Tahoe Truckee students are getting ahead, with the remarkable Community Scholarship Program

Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation
Published on June 25, 2020

In the midst of a global pandemic, economic upheaval, and social unrest, a committed group of donors and volunteers worked tirelessly for the Community Scholarship Program. During endless Zoom meetings, they ensured that a careful, deliberate, and equitable process resulted in 126 Tahoe Truckee students receiving over $1 million in local scholarships. After the common software provided by the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation (TTCF) identified eligible students, it was time for the humans to narrow it down. From March 31st to May 1st, committee volunteers spent countless online hours sifting through over five thousand scholarship applications from 145 eligible students, reading letters of recommendation, matching students to scholarships, and enduring the emotional weight of deciding who gets what. This beautiful burden is a testament to the generous and giving nature of our small, but big-hearted community.

The Tahoe Truckee Community Scholarship Program began over 30 years ago, but it was only when combining forces in 2017 through TTCF’s unifying application software that the huge impact of this program across our community could be seen. In 2017 the program awarded $264,250 in local scholarships, which quickly grew to $1,038,000 by 2020. The result is a joint community effort that has awarded $2,855,660 in scholarships to 453 local students since 2017. This is a gift that allows students to follow dreams they may never have thought possible, thanks to the magnanimity of scholarship creators and tireless commitment of volunteers.

This is the most personal work we do at the Community Foundation. All of us holding the privilege of reading through applications speak to the profound effect it has had on us. This year especially, I’d say these graduates are equipped and ready to change the world.

Despite the difficulty of graduating in a senior year cut short by a pandemic, our 2020 graduates seem poised to change the world. The committee’s task of reading applications featuring these students’ compelling stories and unique ambitions, deeply affects all who take part. “This is the most personal work we do at the Community Foundation. All of us holding the privilege of reading through applications speak to the profound effect it has had on us. This year especially, I’d say these graduates are equipped and ready to change the world,” says Phyllis McConn, TTCF’s Community Impact Officer.

That is certainly true for Mira Begg, the 2020 recipient of the Pat Sutton Memorial Scholarship for Public Service. This scholarship was started 10 years ago to honor the memory of Pat Sutton’s deep devotion to public service and it’s clear that Mira Begg embodies the passion behind this scholarship. She has always worked hard to be an active part of our small community, including volunteering for local political campaigns. It’s a passion she hopes to continue while studying political science at Wesleyan this fall because she believes that the privilege inherent in being white and middle class makes it imperative that you “use your privilege to give support and a voice to those who don’t have one.”

Use your privilege to give support and a voice to those who don’t have one.

The scholarship program is giving crucial support to Tahoe Truckee students of all backgrounds and interests, whether they make their way to community college, four-year universities, or trade schools. What’s surprising is just how often the interests of the donors and student recipients match up seamlessly. When John Olson lost his wife Marcy, one year ago, he and friends set out to create The Marcy Trieb Olson Women in Finance Scholarship to carry on her legacy and provide economic support, mentorship, and “a seat at the table” for young women who wish to pursue careers in finance. When they came across the 2020 application of Maya Wong, they were amazed by the traits and passions she shared with the late Marcy and her family. Now she will have the opportunity to study economics at Colby College, following in the footsteps of countless young women who got the chance to thrive in the traditionally male-dominated field of finance, thanks to the championship of Marcy.

The variety of scholarships is as diverse as the recipients themselves. For every interest, intellect, and ability, it seems there is a scholarship. Within this array of opportunities, reside awards that support young women, honor first-generation college students, encourage the arts and sports, promote civic engagement, and encourage social justice. The PAX House Scholarship, new this year, has deep roots in Berkeley’s activism and a history of welcoming people of all backgrounds interested in making the world a better place. Their needs-based scholarship program more than doubled the amount originally intended and was made renewable for a wide spectrum of students. There is a truly astounding amount of community members, businesses, and organizations that have stepped up to the plate, ensuring deserving local students can pursue an education. Jacquie Black’s philanthropic zest for life inspired the Jacquie Foundation to create a scholarship in her name that awards multi-year scholarships to young women of need and merit. Thus far it has allocated $5000 a year for every year of college to 24 young women. These opportunities are increasing the odds of success for our local students. North Tahoe and Truckee graduates need support to face an ever-changing world and knowing there are people from their home community supporting them from the start makes it all the more doable.

They can take away your job, your rights, but no one can take away your education.

For 2020 scholarship recipient Nicole Heredia, pursuing an education is a dream she never took for granted. After being diagnosed with a chronic disease at age 11, school became a safe haven despite college never seeming in the cards. She vividly remembers when a high school teacher said, “they can take away your job, your rights, but no one can take away your education” as the moment she decided to invest herself wholly in her education. Nicole’s application moved many reviewers to tears and she was selected for the Martis Camp Community Foundation Scholarship. MCCF provides over $200,000 in multi-year scholarships annually, a massive expansion of funding after originally starting with one $20,000 scholarship to honor the legacy of their club golf pro, Denise Martinez. Nicole will be attending UC Santa Cruz this fall to become a physician’s assistant and says that receiving this life-changing scholarship during COVID-19 reminds her that not everyone gets to pursue their dreams, that we can never take them for granted.

The Community Scholarship Program is a remarkable example of the collaborative power of community giving, ensuring the best possible outcomes for students. In addition, the process ensures that awards are spread out among worthy applicants. That is how organizations like the Martis Camp Community Foundation and the Tahoe Donner Giving Fund work together to award incredibly generous, multi-year scholarships.  It’s a remarkable show of community spirit and collaboration, from which many students stand to benefit.

There is so much power that can be generated with a little enthusiasm, you just need a little to make people happy. Positivity and enthusiasm got me to where I am today.

North Tahoe Student Body President Fernando “Chuy” Estrada-Ruiz is no stranger to building community spirit. He will attend UC Santa Cruz thanks to one of four Tahoe Donner Giving Fund’s $50,000 Impact Scholarships. Reviewers were touched to see Chuy’s name appear in other student’s applications, a mark of the profound influence he has on his peers. He worked with a teacher at North Tahoe High to introduce the “Spirit Cup,” a competition to encourage students to get invested in making school a place where “people can be themselves.” Chuy believes, “There is so much power that can be generated with a little enthusiasm, you just need a little to make people happy. Positivity and enthusiasm got me to where I am today.” And what a remarkable place that is, ready to pursue a degree in biology and on his way to becoming the first in his family to graduate from college.

Educational opportunity bridges the gap between dreaming and doing, hoping, and fulfilling. The high cost of education is a glaring issue on the limitations and needs of students and families. Fortunately, our community stepped up to the challenge, in a big way. With over $1 million in scholarships awarded this year alone, the Community Scholarship Program is supporting local students achieving their dreams through collective generosity. At TTCF, we are so grateful to work with the countless volunteers and generous donors who make up this powerful program. Those mentioned throughout this piece provide only a glimpse of the deep well of generosity in our community and we will continue to highlight their generous work. A great debt is owed to everyone who took the time and energy this year, during a pandemic, to advocate for these students. If ever there was a reason for hope in the future, these students have certainly underscored it. These scholarships and the people who make them possible represent the best of this vibrant and diverse community we call home, a community we are proud to support at the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation.