The future looks bright todayfor Daniel Lopez, a Lemon Bay High graduate with his eye on the sky. Studying at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, he’s got dreams of working at Tesla and building a new generation of electrically powered aircraft. Staying at an apartment in Cocoa Beach, he’s buckled in for four years of intense study. But the future hasn’t always been sky-blue clear.

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Lopez in middle school was diagnosed with narcolepsy and lost his stepfather around the same time. For a time, he took only online classes because of struggles with school. It took time to transition back into the student body at Lemon Bay High, but he would find his place in the Tech Student Association, where he rose to the post of president. Still, getting back onto his feet proved a process. And just as he set his heart on Embry-Riddle, he grew concerned about taking on massive student loans. “I knew I’d be put in debt, but wanted to do it anyways,” he says. “I wanted to accomplish that goal.” Months before his high school graduation, Lopez got the lift he needed. Counselors encouraged him to apply for the Bogner Family Scholarship Fund, a new endowment overseen by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County—one that promised the largest payout to students ever issued by the foundation. “I went ahead and applied,” Lopez recalls. “I didn’t even know if I was eligible.” He was, of course; indeed, he proved to be exactly what the fund sought in its first class of honorees. The promise of $25,000 a year made Lopez’s education track possible. “I feel very welcome here,” he says, “and I feel so grateful.” Of course, the Bogner fund is only the largest scholarship awarded by the Community Foundation, and that organization is only one of the many delivering scholarships to students on the Gulf Coast each year. The lofty dreams of Lopez are among many conceived by the promising minds crossing graduation stages each year. And for many a philanthropist in the region, making those dreams comes true becomes a reward in itself.


Earl Young, manager of scholarships and special initiatives for the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, will spend much of the spring sifting through hundreds of applications from college hopefuls in need of assistance. Last January, more than 700 submitted applications as foundation leaders and a variety of boards awarded some $1.8 million in funding to further higher education. With 84 different types of scholarships in the works, the distribution of funding makes Sarasota one of the most generous communities in the country when it comes to supporting college ambitions. “Some very generous individuals have entrusted the Community foundation with their donations, and really believe in how we operate our scholarship programs,” says Earl Young, manager of scholarships and special initiatives.

The hundreds of recipients of the scholarship are those pursuing a traditional college education (heading to college immediately after high school to pursue a bachelor’s degree full-time), and the awards have various conditions and values. Most of the awards will be in the $2,500 range, but the foundation will award a couple scholarships that could be worth as much more. The Lela D. Jackson Foundation Scholarship Fund issues $250,000 each year and promised five Gulf Coast students $12,500 each year for four years. The Bogner scholarship provided $50,000 this year, but went to only two recipients, Lopez and Booker High School graduate Melissa Roberts.

Murray Devine, marketing and communications manager for the foundation, says the philosophy for the organization has shifted in recent years from providing simply a financial means to students and toward also providing a support network to ensure academic success for scholarship recipients. Coaches and mentors will help college students, particularly those who are the first in their families to pursue higher education. “They can also help with those things that happen outside the classroom,” he says. 

Young notes many first generation college students don’t have family to help navigate the bureaucracies of universities or to deal with the logistics of decisions like switching majors. Mentors will help provide that kind of support. “What we saw in the 1990s and the 2000s was an effort in making college more accessible and knocking down financial barriers,” Young says. “Now, the goal it to make sure as many as possible graduate college.”

In the case of the Bogner scholarship, a $1-million endowment has been set up, which Devine says should result in scholarships being awarded in perpetuity. But scholarships can be granted in lump sums, in amounts distributed over a period of years and to recipients based on need, merit or an entirely different set of criteria altogether. But in every case, the outcomes remain relatively the same: a better future for the young people growing up in the region today.

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While Lakewood Ranchmay be the adopted hometown of Dick Vitale, the sports personality has become among the most prominent faces of the region. But at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County, he’s more than a local celebrity. The ESPN analyst and wife Lorraine for the past two decades have awarded $1,000 scholarships through local after-school programs, and with the addition of five honorees named in August, the couple has now helped 100 different students meet their higher education needs.

For Vitale, it only makes sense to pay forward the fortune in his life to those looking to better their own situations. “My wife and I love extending a hand to kids chasing a dream,” Vitale says. “It has been an honor to present scholarships multiple years to the Boys & Girls Clubs, which has been lending a guiding hand to kids in a positive manner.”

Daughter Terri Vitale elaborates further. While she’s grown up watching her father’s successes in life, she knows the man’s humble beginnings. He came from a working class family in New Jersey where his dad worked two jobs and his mother got a factory job as well. He occasionally shares the story of losing his eye in an accident as a child, but still finding a way forward. While many know “Dicky V” from his appearances on television, or for the longtime basketball fans his days coaching the Detroit Pistons, his career started teaching sixth graders. “He spent a lot of time getting to know those families and their tough personal situations,” his daughter says. “He became a critical voice for those kids.” And Boys & Girls Clubs, as a national organization, has captivated the sports legend's interests the entire time. Sara Bealor, communications director for the local Boys & Girls Clubs, says he’s regularly supported holiday meals and attends the scholarship ceremonies himself to give a message of inspiration to the rising youths.

The money is helping Hasaan Hogan, a 19-year-old who just graduated from North Port High and now has eyes on the Film Development program at Florida State University. He spent six years attending the Gene Matthews Boys and Girls Club after school program. He credits the scholarship from the Vitales with making a move to the Panhandle possible.

And while Hogan’s scholarship comes from the Vitales' interest in helping inspiring students from humble backgrounds, other philanthropists in the region use their giving to inspire students to pursue opportunities that until recently seemed uninviting.

Linda Jellison, co-founder of LTC Engineering Associates, spent 17 years in engineering during a time when women in the field were looked at askance. Even today, the field suffers a gender gap, with only 6 percent of women in the workforce taking jobs in careers related to science, technology, engineering or math. “There are so many opportunities for young women in the field, and it’s growing so much,” she says. Now Jellison and her husband, Craig Wedge, hope to attract some talent into the industry through a scholarship granted to graduates of Sarasota Military Academy.

“My goal was to find young women who may not have had oppourtunities to go into an engineering or mathematical field and encourage them through funding,” she says, “and also to make myself a mentor so that they can see you can have a great career.” The Jellison-Wedge scholarship pays $5,000 each year to its recipient. The first recipient, Alexandra Rodman, earned the inaugural scholarship in 2013 and just graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in veterinary medicine. A new recipient will be awarded a scholarship this year. But the money, at least in Jellison’s eyes, is the easy part to contribute. Her time, she hopes, will make the real difference. “My goal is to contribute my experiences and what I’ve done so kids can look and be more strategic as they graduate high school and go to college for a particular reason,” she says.

Jellison also now sits on the board for the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, which provides a portal not only to those who may apply for the scholarship in her name, but to hundreds of other funds tapped and available to students in the region. In fact, officials with the Education Foundation say this year that there are 1,113 scholarships available through the site right now.

Michelle Young, communications director for the foundation, says students may be under a mistaken impression that scholarships will only come to the highest performing students in class. While academic success brings with it certain rewards, there’s a plethora of funding available for any number of specialty interests, demographic opportunity and financial need.  Churches, nonprofits and major corporations alike fund education in a variety of ways. “There’s a scholarship for almost everything,” she says. “There’s something for law, certain scholarships for girls in STEM and others focused on particular minority groups. And that’s just in our community. If you look beyond that, you can probably find a scholarship out there that fits almost any child looking to go on with their education.”

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Graeme Sugden had never tried to play the flute before entering 7th grade, but he quickly got hooked. Within a year, he had started taking private lessons and within a couple years would be playing both for the Braden River High band and as part of the wind ensemble. He just couldn’t put the instrument down. “I’ve been enchanted by the sound of the flute,” he says. “It creates this magical sound, an ethereal sound. And there’s also a vibration you get applying the flute to your lips. You feel it thorugh your fingers and through the instrument itself. When you play a wind instrument, it feels more like it’s connected to your body.”

After graduating high school last fall, he’s now studying at Florida State University’s prestigious College of Music under Eva Amsler, and plans to pursue a doctorate in music, so this is no teenager’s hobby. But as he becomes more serious about the music, the price tag rises as well. He can’t rent an instrument from a band teacher for a couple bucks a month anymore. He’s got his eyes on a Brannen-Cooper Orchestral Flute, an instrument priced around $14,000 on a student discount. That’s the sort of expense he couldn’t afford without the help of Suncoast Music Scholarships.The program represents a partnership between the Sarasota Music Club and the Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota, which together awarded $22,000 to eight aspiring musicians in Manatee and Sarasota counties this year. Sugden won the biggest prize this round, securing $5,000 after blowing away judges during an audition process earlier this year. Susan Hicks, communications director for the Sarasota Music Club and co-chair of the scholarship committee, says the funding helps keep the fine arts tradition on the Gulf Coast alive and thriving. The funding, she says, comes with few strings attached, though it’s intended to further students’ education. Whether that means paying for better instruments or equipment or chipping in to tuition costs will end up a discussion between the benefactors and recipients of the prizes. “They can’t just blanket spend it,” she says. “They have to present invoices through the Artist Series.”

In this case, the scholarship application process provides a dose of important experience performing in front of a panel. “This scholarship program helps support music education for our very talented competition winners, and it offers a valuable audition opportunity to many more students,” notes Lee Dougherty-Ross, Artist Series co-founder and the other co-chair on the scholarship committee.

And for Sugde sn, it allows him to follow a dream critical to his own identity. “Music has always been my No. 1 passion,” he says. “Without it, I honestly don’t know who I would be.” The music scholarship offers some cultural flair to the education landscape in the area, but plenty of other field-specific scholarships also keep a diversity of interests alive on the Gulf Coast. For many of the people behind scholarships, encouraging students to reach their full potential remains the most critical part of their mission. At the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation in Sarasota, about a third of its expenditures each year go toward contributing to the education of “Selby scholars,” recipients of the prestigious scholarship program there. The organization this year named 39 new recipients, and continues to pay for the education of 88 other students still obtaining a higher education. In total, the foundation pays out about $3 million each year just in scholarship funding. 

Carol Butera, who took over this year as executive director of the foundation, says bettering the lives of young people has been part of the Selby mission since its inception in 1956. And the success of the program shows the type of enduring legacy that can be achieved with such an endowment. The foundation first launched with a $3 million charitable trust set up by oil tycoon and Sarasota resident William Selby one year before his death in 1956, and when his wife Marie passed in 1971, she willed another $16.5 million to the foundation. Butera says that the Selbys had seen in industry how much difference education could make in the life course of their employees. Since the Selbys never had children of their own, they decided the young people in their adopted Gulf Coast community should benefit from their success. “What they decided to do was, in perpetuity, to make it possible for other people to expand their education and reach their potential as human beings,” Butera says. In the impending decades, the endowment empowered the foundation to contribute some $120 million in various grants and scholarships. 

That contribution in turn has made for a population on the Gulf Coast with more opportunities to better themselves, and in turn improve the quality of life all around. “A better educated community makes it possible to dream big and think big,” Butera says, “and to be able to produce better things for the next generation.” 

And other organizations target scholarships more specifically to bolster sectors of the local economy. The Auxiliary of Doctors Hospital of Sarasota has awarded more than $1 million in scholarships over its 50 years of existence, and this June handed out to 10 different students studying a variety of nursing and pre-med careers. And there’s graduate-level scholarship money landing in the hands of students as well. Martin Gold, director of the University of Florida’s CityLab-Sarasota, recently announced three scholarships to master’s degree-seeking students studying at Center for Architecture Sarasota. He says that funding has helped to attract hopefuls to the satellite program and incentivize the students to pursue a graduate education.

The Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition in August awarded 17 scholarships to encourage more registered nurses to continue their education and receive their bachelor’s and doctoral degrees. “Investing in BASN post-graduate nursing education is one of the best things a community can do to fill those critical roles,” said Jan Mauck, co-chair of the Coalition. “We are fortunate to have a community willing to support our scholarship program and work with us to ensure a highly prepared nursing workforce.” The result of the effort? Sarasota Memorial Hospital now has 52 percent of its nurses holding a BSN or higher, outpacing the rest of Florida.

Programs like Workforce Funders provide scholarships for students enrolled at colleges around the country to have paid internships at local professional workplaces, according to Mireya Eavey, with the organization reimbursing up to $1,500 to companies paying interns at least $10 an hour. The successful work-focused scholarship effort has contributed to $10 million-plus economic impact since Workforce Funders launched in 2010.

But for all the development of employee pools and all the gaps filled in the employment market, the greatest impacts may simply be in brightening the future for those aspiring students cashing the checks.

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Melissa Roberts walks the campus of Johnson & Wales University in Miami, a place where just a year ago she dreamed of enrolling but couldn’t imagine how to pay the price of tuition. The culinary institute charged upward of $44,000 a year to attend. There are other places to study the cooking trade, but to learn the craft on a full-fledged college campus remains a rare opportunity. Johnson & Wales boasts a business school and an athletics program in addition to its world-respected College of Culinary Arts.  Most food programs are found in technical colleges, absent campus life or a community outside individual classes. Johnson & Wales, without question, was where Johnson wanted to go the minute she discovered its existence. “I wanted the full college experience,” she says, “and I wanted a degree in business as well.” It just seemed financially out of reach. The middle child out of five, her mother had a stroke years ago and remains disabled. While her father helped pick up some of that slack, Roberts knew there was no giant pile of money waiting to pay for the college of her dreams. But she stayed vigilant in her studies at Booker High School, participated in an entrepreneurial program there and got invited to be a Grains Scholar. Through that, she learned of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s general scholarship program and dutifully applied, hoping to get something to supplement her education after high school. When she found herself invited to interview for the Bogner scholarship, she was thrilled. Then she actually got the $25,000-a-year award.

When added with her Bright Futures money and some other awards she’d pulled together, the cost of Johnson & Wales no longer seemed over the moon. Roberts was headed to college in Miami. She’s studying at the Miami school now while planning a trip to Italy next year as part of the school’s semester abroad program. She plans to specialize in cooking that Mediterranean cuisine, but also should leave the college with enough business classes and financial acumen to run the front or back of house at a restaurant, and may someday be able to start her own. 

“I was teetering on the edge of deciding what to do with my life,” Roberts says. “I knew this was the best fit for me, going to this type of private institution, but I was about to let go of a lot of opportunities. The Bogner scholarship pretty much helped me not to worry.” And based on her finances as she enjoys her freshman year, she won’t worry much after getting her degree in hand. She won’t be plagued by loans and debt, but on the day she tosses her mortarboard, she’ll be holding a degree from a respected institution and be capable of winning instant attention in her field.And that’s the type of story every philanthropist wants to take to the bank. SRQ