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Scholarships Invest in Area Students and Communities

<August 15, 2016> What is the driving force behind local scholarships that help area students afford and graduate from college?  It’s the 35 scholarship funds created by a mix of individuals, couples, families, clubs and schools, held and managed by the Community Foundation for Oceana County (CFOC).  In 2016, these generous donors helped 125 area students avoid added student debt, by awarding $177,650 in scholarship support.

“It’s an investment in their potential, and in the impact they can have in their communities,” according to CFOC Executive Director Tammy Carey. One third of these awards went to first generation college students, and 17% were awarded to Hispanic students.

The Foundation made an added investment in post-secondary education success when it led the effort to develop and serve as the fiscal sponsor for the Oceana CAN! (College Access Network). Oceana CAN!, led by Coordinator Alyssa Merten, has raised awareness of the need for education & training beyond high school to meet today’s workforce demands. According to a new report from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, 99% of new jobs since the 2008 recession went to those with at least an associate’s degree.

“Employers increasingly want workers with at least some education beyond high school, be it a two or four-year degree or certificate in a trade,” reports Merten. Network partners have aided the overall effort by increasing opportunities for students to participate in campus tours/career pathway exploration, sponsoring College Application Day/Decision Day and fostering greater understanding of financial resources, including FAFSA workshops (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Only 52% of Oceana County’s seniors enrolled in a post-secondary education program following graduation and, of those, only 31% are completing a degree or certificate.

“Our very first fund in 1989 was a scholarship fund,” added Carey. “Helping our kids, our future, is a priority for many of our donors. Maybe it is small town culture, but this community is very willing to roll up its sleeves and create positive community change. The response by area businesses in support of Oceana CAN! has been incredible.”

Every year, new funds are added to the program, including two so far in 2016. One of these is the Mereta Ann Spitler Scholarship Fund, for Hart High School grads who go on to attend Michigan State University (MSU). Mereta’s parents were from Hart and her family spent many weekends and summers here. When Mereta was 18 years old, she was in a terrible car accident and spent the next year learning again to walk, talk, and take care of herself.

She was a very determined person and went on to attend MSU (where her father worked) and earned her education degree. She was a teacher for the Grand Rapids Public Schools for over 30 years, first teaching in a classroom and then traveling to teach homebound students. She always remained a devoted MSU fan.

The other new scholarship fund was created via bequest by Dr. Janet Wessel (photo) of Benona Township and Phoenix, Arizona. Janet grew up in Ferndale, MI and received her bachelor’s degree from MacMurray College, master’s degree from Wellesley College and PhD from the University of Southern California, each aided by the financial help of scholarships. This helped frame her passion for the power of education and her strong support for students in need of help. Her estate gift established the Janet A. Wessel Scholarship Fund for Shelby High School grads.

Janet joined the MSU faculty in 1956 and led a path breaking career in physical education, a field mostly populated by men at the time. She conducted some of the first research on the aerobic capacity of older women and later became increasingly interested in the physical ability of the disabled, particularly among young children. Her development of the “I CAN Achievement Based Physical Education Curriculum” earned her national recognition.

In 1984 Janet retired from MSU, spending her summers at her Lake Michigan home. Her philosophy of life follows “as I have come to view my life, I see three focuses: family, personal goals and helping others. For me, true happiness, feeling good, is a chance to do something for someone else. Each night I reflect on the day’s activities for three acts for kindness, support, and doing for others. I believe that education, the ability to move, to act, and in having or giving loving support and caring is the core of achieving harmony in life.”

For more information about making a gift or creating a named fund at the Community Foundation for Oceana County, call Executive Director Tammy Carey at 231-861-8335. A full list of 2016 scholarship recipients is here.