Since the inception of the Boca Grande Woman’s Club Scholarship Program, the landscape of higher education in the United States has changed and grown exponentially. And, so too, has the Club’s program.
Over the years the Club has adapted the Scholarship Program to 1) become more inclusive by broadening the pool of potential candidates while continuing to address the need in the island community; 2) develop an increased awareness among eligible students, and build an important relationship with Lemon Bay High School; 3) formalize a committee of BGWC volunteers dedicated to maintaining a comprehensive application process; and 4) institute financial plans to insure support for successful students.
In 1971 the Club began supporting higher education by awarding two students financial aid. The Club had long supported programs related to children such as the Boy Scouts and the Hacienda Girls Ranch but this marked the first effort to provide scholarships to students seeking a college education. During these early years, the Club President served as the chair of the Scholarship Committee which included two to three other members.
The scholarship program was formalized under the leadership of Mrs. Donald “Greenie” Hooker who was elected president of the Club in 1982 and assumed the chairmanship of the committee. The Club officially budgeted $2500 for the program and began working with the principal of Lemon Bay High School and participating in the school’s annual Awards Night. Greenie was dedicated to working with the students and reviewing the reports they submitted. Each year she gave an in-depth report to the Club on the achievements and progress of the students. During the first decade of the formal program, the Club awarded $53,600 to 17 students. There continued to be significant growth in the program during the 1990s with 32 students receiving $208,000. Committee chairs during this period included Mrs. Zweck Bronner, Mary O’Bannon, Carole Geoghagan, Barbara Murphy, Barbara Williams, Patsy Burke, and Linda Aley.
In 2010 the Scholarship Committee began discussing new criteria in the application process to reflect changing demographics of Boca Grande as well as the different avenues available for students to seek an education. To accommodate these changes, the Committee restructured the application process and form. Press releases were sent to local newspapers announcing the application deadline and encouraging local students to apply. Within two years, the number of awards increased to 15-20 new students each year. The rise in numbers also reflected a national increase in college-bound students. During the last eight years, over 111 students were awarded $1,517,000 in financial support. Committee chairmen during this period included Ginny Bryant, Louise Head, and Stephanie Vick.
Today’s Woman’s Club scholarship program contains critical elements from the earliest days to the most recent adaptations. Applicants to the program must be applying for admission to a school of higher education; must demonstrate a B or better high school grade average; must meet residency and/or work requirements; must demonstrate financial need by completing the FAFSA form; and must complete and submit the BGWC application by February 1. Once a student is accepted into the program, he or she is guaranteed continued support until graduation as long as the Club’s requirements for grades, course loads, and reporting are met. Each semester scholars must submit a personal letter stating their goals and achievements, including extra-curricular activities, along with a copy of their official grade transcript and proof of enrollment of 12 or more hours for the up-coming semester.
Student retention has been one of the major topics in higher education since the 2008 economic downturn. For instance, only 59% of students seeking a bachelor’s degree at 4-year institutions in the fall of 2009 completed the degree in six years. Students who participate in the BGWC scholarship program complete their education in 2 or 4 years at a rate well above the national norm. The Scholarship Committee believes this success rate is partially attributable to the committee’s close monitoring of students’ progress and the development of personal relationships.
Under the Club’s bylaws, the President serves as an ex officio member of the committee and appoints the committee chair. Appointments to the committee are made jointly by the Committee Chair, President and 1st Vice President. Each spring, the committee submits a report and funding request to the Executive Board. Presently serving on the committee are Stephanie Vick, Chair; Pam McMillin, Nell Cox, Mary Kountz, Louise Head, Deb Nash and Rose Marie Iovino.
Over the past 47 years, the Club has awarded over $2.5 million in financial assistance to over 250 students. This investment by the Club, made with dollars raised from the community, has realized excellent results not only for the students but also as compared to national outcomes for all students receiving financial aid. BRAVO to the diligent students and the hard-working members of the Boca Grande Woman’s Club.
Contributors to this article include: Deb Nash, Pat Rice, Stephanie Vick, Ginny Bryant, Louise Head, Kathy Berry and Vicky Winterer.
Notes from BGWC Alumni Scholars
Former scholars were asked to share their experience with the Scholarship Program and the following comments were compiled from their responses.
Brianna Blosser: Emergency Room Technologist, Desoto County Fire Department. South Florida State College, Fire Certifications and Paramedic License. “The funds received from your organization helped me achieve my educational goals. My hope is to return to school and become a flight medic.”
Kelsey Chavarria: Boca Grande Health Clinic. State College of Florida, B.S. Health Services Administration. “The BGWC Scholarship pushed me to give more throughout my college career, as I knew the club was counting on me to do well. I am dedicated to giving back to the community which gave me this opportunity.”
Susanne Darna Dudley: Tallahassee Leadership Council for the University of Florida Shands Children’s Hospital and Children’s Miracle Network. University of Florida, B.S. Public Relations. “Our community has always generously and lovingly supported all of us who grew up on the Island. I have enjoyed a varied career, which would not have been possible without the Woman’s Club Scholarship, and for that I will always be grateful.”
Ariane Dumas: Strategic Planner, Health4Brands in Boston, Massachusetts. Harvard University, M.S. Environmental Health. Louisiana State University, B.S. Oceanography and Applied Coastal Sciences. “You are truly enabling bright futures for the young people of Boca Grande and the surrounding community. The BGWC was there for me through this entire journey. I am so very grateful for the example you set as strong women working to make a difference.”
Morgan Taylor Guzik: Drexel University, M.B.A. and B.S. Music Industry “Thank you for your support throughout my college career. The past four years were an exciting adventure and your continuous support helped tremendously along the way.”
Alannah Keisling: Enrolled in a two year, fulltime Masters program at Florida Gulf Coast University, Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Thiel College, B.A. with triple major in Psychology, Sociology and Criminal Justice. “Due to the generosity of the BGWC, I was able to complete my undergraduate degree and develop the foundation for graduate school. The support and words of encouragement I received from the Club’s letters, kept me motivated throughout my college career. I cannot thank you enough for the experiences and learning I enjoyed in my undergraduate career.”
Trenton J. Keisling: Coordinator of University Housing Placements/Hall Director at Walsh University, North Canton, Ohio. Youngstown State University, M.S. Education Counseling and Thiel College, B.A., Media Communications. “I remember walking across the stage during the Lemon Bay High School Scholarship Night and knowing at that moment, I wanted to ensure that your Investment in me was the right choice.”
Seth Joiner: Tampa Bay Fisheries, seafood wholesaler. University of Florida, B.A. Food and Resource Economics. “Thanks to your scholarship, I was able to obtain a degree from the University of Florida without having a single cent of student loan debt. I was the first from my family to receive a college degree and my family and loved ones are very proud of my achievements. We are all grateful for the love and support of the BGWC. I want to thank you for supporting not only me, but all the young people before and after me who were fortunate to participate in the program.”
Jessica Lown: Analyst with Lockheed-Martin. B.S. Aeronautical Engineering, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “Thanks to the BGWC, I have been able to attend a great school which enables me to chase my passion which is aviation and engineering. I could not have done it without your support.”
Beatrice Penzski: Child Protective Investigations Division, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. University of South Florida, B.S. Criminology. “I would not be where I am today without the support from the BGWC, both financial and emotional. The support and care I received throughout the time I was receiving the scholarship was unbelievable. It was truly nice to know people were supporting me.”
Tony Soltis: Deputy, Charlotte County Police Force. State College of Florida, A.S. Criminal Justice. “I would not have been able to complete my education without the BGWC. I now have a lifetime career I love. The BGWC scholarship showed me the island cared about me as a person.”
Amber Taylor Perrett: Math Teacher and cheerleading coach at Port Charlotte High School. Tennessee Wesleyan University, B.S. Special Education. ”I feel very fortunate to have received the BGWC scholarship. I am enjoying teaching and find it extremely rewarding.”
Chassity Taylor: First Grade Teacher at Neil Armstrong Elementary School and coaching volleyball at North Port High School. “I love coaching at the varsity level and find teaching very rewarding as well as challenging with the students coming from such diverse backgrounds. I am grateful for the BGWC scholarship; it allowed me to be a student-athlete. Going to an out of state school helped me mature as an individual and I am grateful for that opportunity.”
Brandy Wheeler Joiner: Teacher at Jay Robinson Middle School in Charlotte, N.C. for the past 15 years. Earned her National Board Certification in 2017. University of South Florida, M.S. Science and B.S. Elementary Education. “Thank you to the BGWC for giving me opportunity and support, and for having a vested Interest in the young people of Boca Grande. You made the difference in me!”
Stephanie Wheeler Joiner: Science Teacher, Port Charlotte High School. University of South Florida, M.S. Educational Leadership; B.S. Exercise and Sport Sciences, with a specialization in Health and Science Education. “After all these years, I am still extremely grateful for the scholarship program because it made it financially possible for me to complete college. It enabled me to have the full, blessed life I now enjoy.”