Up to the challenge?

Community can help students ‘REACH’ scholarships

Grades aren’t always the main obstacle standing in the way of a student and going to college. Sometimes, it comes down to dollars.

The REACH Georgia Scholarship program launched in 2012, with the aim of supporting children whose parents can’t afford the costs of a post-secondary education. Four years later, the program debuted in White County with five $10,000 scholarships – fully funded by the state – awarded to eighth-graders with financial challenges.

Starting last year, a local contribution of $3,500 was needed to secure each $10,000 award, but only one was funded.

The Rotary Club of White County teamed with another local civic group to contribute the local match. At the Rotary Club’s weekly meeting Tuesday, Aug. 7, members presented a check to solely cover one of the REACH Georgia scholarships – with the hope others in the community will meet the challenge to open pathways to college.

“Every time you raise $3,500, we’ll add another scholar, up to five,” said Sara Neeley, business development consultant for REACH Georgia.

The difference between the $3,500 local funding and the $10,000 scholarship is covered by a state foundation and other private donors. That’s only the beginning, Neeley said.

Some in-state colleges and technical colleges will match – or double-match – the $10,000 REACH Georgia Scholarship, meaning a student would have $20,000 to $30,000 available for academic expenses.

Since REACH scholars must be on free or reduced lunch, they are also eligible for the federal Pell Grant. Neeley said, assuming an average grant of $6,000 per year for four years, would add about $24,000 in financial aid. That amount continues to grow if the student performs well enough to obtain a HOPE Scholarship.

Ideally, the students have an opportunity to graduate debt-free.

“We want these children to be able to come back to White County, get a job, go to the car dealership, buy a home, do all sorts of things and not have that burden of big student debt,” Neeley said.

Students must fill out an application, received two recommendations and be interviewed by a scholarship committee to be eligible for selection. If a student moves out of state or does not stay on track to graduate college, the remaining funds return to White County to be used for another scholar. To learn more about REACH Georgia, visit reachga.org or call 678-640-3494.

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