29 Jan 2020 Scholarships: the Reviewers, the Recipients and the Space They Share
by Malaina Mote, scholarship manager, Southwest Florida Community Foundation
As their hands met, chills traveled down my arms and tears gathered in my eyes. I watched from across the room as two people from two walks-of-life met, for the first time, after impacting each other in ways they never could imagine.
It was a rainy May evening, and I helplessly watched dedicated volunteers dodge raindrops on their way to Collaboratory’s doors. Every year, volunteers who read and score scholarship applications gather and celebrate a successful scholarship season. They enjoy food, sip drinks and share experiences.
Grateful faces of scholarship recipients smile at them from screens and share their words of thanks. Tables are topped with flowers and green buttons that display their cause, “Economy & Jobs,” which they wear proudly showcasing their hand in workforce readiness.
It was at one of these tables I sat with a volunteer who read scholarship applications for the first time. He and his wife were beaming with enthusiasm, and I couldn’t wait to hear about their reviewer experience. “It was so wonderful, Malaina,” she said cheerfully. “I cannot wait to do it again!” She smiled, awarding herself with a bite of her sweet treat and turned to her husband. “There is one application that I just can’t get out of my mind,” he said. His face showed concern, but his eyes gleamed. “It was a young man who grew up in the foster system and talked about being adopted when he was fourteen. He talked about feeling unwanted for most of his life.” My heart dropped. The room stood still. I took a breath. “He’s sitting right behind me.”
His eyes shifted over my shoulder. “That’s him? I would like to meet him.” The presentation portion of the event began, and Sarah Owen, our president and CEO, expressed our gratitude. Donors, students and community leaders heard about Southwest Florida’s students and rubbed shoulders in commonality of this life-changing and inspiring experience.
Afterwards, the crowd began to thin and attendees waved as they made their exit. I kept my eyes on the room, scanning it in anticipation for the moment I’d been waiting for. Then it happened. What started as an application submission ended in a handshake between two people who would’ve otherwise never met. The accomplished reviewer greeted the recipient. The recipient didn’t know this man reviewed his application and contributed to the opening of a world of possibilities for him. The reviewer’s life will forever be inspired by the recipient’s story.
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation relies on volunteers to read and score scholarship applications, to determine recipient recommendations that we present to our Board for approval. Reviewers read and score applications completely online, and in the space they feel most comfortable. At the end of each scholarship season, we show our thanks by hosting an event where reviewers can meet one-another, enjoy refreshments and hear stories from the season’s recipients.
Stories like this happen every year. If you are interested in becoming a reviewer, please email [email protected].
About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $7.7 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $134.9 million, it has provided $85 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. The Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are now located in the historic ACL Train Depot at Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers, with a satellite office located in LaBelle (Hendry County). For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit www.floridacommunity.com