When Palo Alto talks about valuing its youth, it can look to the Greenmeadow Community Association for inspiration. Now in its 50th year, the neighborhood's college-scholarship program benefits high school seniors in two communities: Greenmeadow and Menlo-Atherton High School.
The community-funded Greenmeadow Community Scholarship Fund will honor six outstanding students with $2,500 each this May. Over the years, it has expanded from the original $25 stipend.
The program began as a way for the neighborhood to heal after a high school senior, Scott Douglass, accidentally drowned in the association's swimming pool in 1963. Members launched the scholarships in 1964, Greenmeadow Community Association Fund President Stuart Greene said. Originally, awards went only to students whose families were members of the neighborhood association. The organization added three more scholarships in 1969 for Ravenswood High School students. When that school closed, the scholarships followed to students at Menlo-Atherton as a way to have greater impact on students who face adversity.
"People in the community felt we needed to expand beyond the provincial geographic boundaries and do something more communal," Greene said.
The M-A scholarships are named for George Ebey, a founder of the original scholarship program, Bob Wachs, head of direct appeal, said.
"We're hoping we're delivering a message where kids who come from backgrounds where education is not stressed and feel there is no way out will know that people outside their community believe in them," he said.
Sales of ads in the neighborhood association's annual directory and donations through direct mailings fund the scholarships.
Scholarship winners must excel in three criteria: scholarship (with a minimum 2.75 grade-point average), community service and worthy character. The lattermost is hard to define but plays a large part in who gets the award, Wachs said.
The committee asks students about their role model. The responses reveal much about the students' inner workings, Greene said.
"Many refer to someone we have never heard of or to a family member. It's a key point in the interview process," he added.
Alice Kleeman, an M-A college adviser, chairs the school's scholarship committee and selects eight students each year for the scholarship process.
"They are wonderful kids without a lot of advantages. It is just inspirational. They have an enormous feeling of gratitude that somebody is investing in them. The kids feel really proud. They all get something, and they are just tickled.
"It's a very wonderful community event, and it helps paying for college," she said.
Students who don't win a scholarship still receive a $250 stipend, and everyone receives books, such as atlases, Wachs said.
Niesha Ford, an M-A graduate, received the scholarship last year.
"Ever since I was young I knew I was going to college, but I never knew how I was going to afford it. When I received the Greenmeadow scholarship, it felt like someone was saying, 'You're going to college, and we're going to make sure of that.'
"I was very happy to receive this scholarship. Not only did it help me finance my education, but I also felt that I had a huge support system guiding me on my way to my future.
"My dream is to be a physician. I know going that route requires a lot of money, and going to a private college wasn't making things much better. The Greenmeadow scholarship has helped me complete my freshman year debt free and has also offered me an amazing book that has taught me so much about the human body. In addition, they have offered me a support system that I will always be grateful for," she said.
Ford is currently a freshman at College of Saint Benedict, in Saint Joseph, Minn. She is studying biochemistry with a minor in psychology, and she hopes to go into medical school in the fall of 2017.
David Matthes received a Greenmeadow scholarship in 1982, following his mother's prompting, he said.
"I was 17 and spending most of my free time playing Dungeons and Dragons with my brothers and friends in the Greenmeadow neighborhood," he recalled in an email this week.
"As many applicants probably did too, I felt sure that there would surely be another senior with worthier character or greater achievements than me in the neighborhood. ... Still, the interview at the Greenmeadow Community Center was encouraging and somehow made me feel valued as a community member.
"Being awarded the scholarship ... was a complete surprise and felt to me to be a great honor," he said.
Matthes graduated from Stanford University and University of California at Berkeley. He has taught and done research in cellular biology and molecular genetics at three colleges, most recently at the University of Minnesota.
"I've since received awards for teaching, for curriculum development, and for advising and mentoring. Somehow I know that it all traces back to spending some formative years in a community that valued education and whose members donated some of their time, money and talent to acknowledge the character, achievements and potential of the graduating seniors in their midst," he said.
Greene said he keeps hoping the event will inspire other neighborhoods to follow. As far as he knows, Greenmeadow is the only neighborhood providing a resident-based scholarship, he said. Anyone interested in supporting or learning more about the scholarship program can email Greene at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The scholarship program offers the neighborhood a strong sense of identity, Greene said.
"It demonstrates the interest in the community to be more than a collection of homes in a geographical area and to have a purpose that is more than a social gathering," he said. "It's a foundation of what the Greenmeadow community is about."
Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at email@example.com.