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MailTribune.com
  • Fairy Godmother scholarship program provides bonds between generations

    Fairy Godmother Scholarship Program offers mentorship — and cash — for graduating women
  • Grace Abbott sits on a couch in a Rogue Valley Manor duplex, several letters and pictures strewn across her lap. She picks one up and reads: "Thank you for listening to my story and believing in me," and raises her hand to her heart. "That's the kind of thing that reminds me why we do this," she said.
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  • Grace Abbott sits on a couch in a Rogue Valley Manor duplex, several letters and pictures strewn across her lap. She picks one up and reads: "Thank you for listening to my story and believing in me," and raises her hand to her heart. "That's the kind of thing that reminds me why we do this," she said.
    Abbott is president of the Fairy Godmother Scholarship Program, which has provided scholarships to high school senior women in Jackson County for 18 years.
    The program is about more than paying for college, however. Recipients of the scholarship are also paired with a "fairy godmother," a mentor who helps guide them through their college years.
    Many scholarship winners stay in contact with their mentors for years, sending emails or thank-you cards like the one Abbott received.
    This year, 12 Jackson County high school senior women were chosen to receive $3,300 a year for their first two years attending an Oregon college.
    Many winners are the first in their family to attend college or are from family situations that have left them scrambling. Despite the various obstacles winners have faced, all have shown a commitment to succeeding in school and attending college.
    "They're girls who have shown a lot of grit and determination," Abbott said.
    Current vice president and next year's president of the foundation, Mary Bjorkholm, said the scholarships are given to women who deserve a leg up.
    "They've already done so much to be on a good path and get to college," Bjorkholm said. "We just get to help them continue that path."
    Committee member and fairy godmother Betty Jane Darling, 91, who has been involved with the program for nine years, said she gets as much out of the program as the winners do.
    "I can honestly say its been the most rewarding program I've ever been involved in," Darling said. "I just heard back from a girl who graduated from OIT (Oregon Institute of Technology) in 2012. I hadn't talked to her in years but she still wanted to send me an email to say, 'I wanted you to know I'm thinking of you and let you know what's going on in my life.'"
    Bjorkholm said being a fairy godmother is fun and keeps her in touch with the younger generation.
    "You need to truly listen to her and focus on what she has to say," Bjorkholm said. "But you also need to know how to text. I'm the queen of the smartphone now!"
    The scholarship was founded with a donation from Cornelia Tomes, a Rogue Valley Manor resident and PhD graduate, in 1997. After reading frequently about teen pregnancy and drug use, Tomes wanted to assist young women from financially hard-pressed families who have an interest in pursuing their education.
    "She was anxious to provide something as an alternative future," Darling said.
    The committee, made up of community members as well as Rogue Valley Manor residents, asks counselors from Jackson County high schools to recommend graduating women. Of the 39 applicants this year, 20 were interviewed by members of the committee on their life experiences, community service, past jobs, involvement in school and academics.
    "Grades and SAT scores are important, but we're also looking for that special spark," Bjorkholm said.
    Then comes what Bjorkholm called "the absolute hardest part," selecting the winners from the pool of applicants.
    Both winners and mentors are held to certain standards.
    "(Scholarship winners) must be modest, carry 12 credits a quarter and maintain (at least) a C average," Abbott said, while a mentor is "meant to be a mature woman who is out in the world and has some experience. She's an adviser, a cheerleader, a role model."
    The scholarship was originally created to help cover two years of community college, after which most winners would be able to get a job. Now, Bjorkholm said, many attend college for four years.
    To help with the increased cost of four years of college, the foundation is launching a new program: the continuation scholarship. Current sophomore scholarship winners are the first group eligible to apply for the continuation scholarship.
    A few more years down the line, the program may begin to come full circle.
    "A number of our girls have expressed the sentiment that they wish to be mentors, or fairy godmothers as we call them, themselves one day," Darling said.
    While Abbott said watching winners thrive and succeed is rewarding, the program at its heart is about the individual conversations had with students, letting the women know they are there, they are listening and they care.
    "I'm not saving the world," Abbott said. "I'm just helping a few young girls with getting started."
    To donate to the Fairy Godmother Scholarship program, call the Rogue Valley Manor Foundation at 541-857-7026 and specify that you would like your donation to go toward the Fairy Godmother Scholarship program. To apply for the scholarship in future years, eligible seniors can ask their school adviser to consider nominating them.
    Reach Mail Tribune reporting intern Kelsey Thomas at 541-776-4368 or kthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter @kelseyethomas.
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