Published: June 25, 2024 | Updated: June 24, 2024

Scholarships help drive economy, communities forward

SANDPOINT — What turns the economic gears of a small community?

Many will answer “supporting small businesses” or “attending community events,” however, investing in the next generation may be one of the most effective ways to keep money local.

In Bonner County, many local businesses and organizations demonstrate this by awarding scholarships to local high schoolers. For example, this year close to $300,000 in grants and scholarships were awarded to Sandpoint High School students alone. That sum does not include local scholarships distributed to other high schoolers in the area.

Sandpoint Rotary has championed many efforts to develop youth scholarship programs, including both career technical education scholarships and academic scholarships.

“Scholarships generate economic impact in a variety of ways that reach beyond the direct impact to the student receiving them and what that saves their families keeping more dollars here,” Dyno Wahl, Rotary member, said. “…We have had many scholarship winners return to the area after their studies are completed, some sooner than later, as doctors, nurses, teachers, linemen, computer technicians, business owners and more.”

Rotary's motto is "service above self," motivating an aim to select students who have embraced this in their lives thus far, and in their future plans, Wahl said. This year Sandpoint Rotary awarded $25,000 to 20 students at Sandpoint and Lake Pend Oreille high schools.

“Our community is incredibly supportive and generous of these students, including businesses in many sectors and many business associations and arts and other nonprofit/philanthropic organizations,” Wahl said. 

Sandpoint Rotary’s other scholarship committee focuses on assisting students headed into a trade school or technical training, including nursing, lineman training, mechanics, plumbing, electronics, computers, and other fields. The funds for the CTE scholarships are raised at the club's annual golf tournament.

Curtis Johnson, a Sandpoint Rotary member, specifically focuses on CTE scholarships on the Rotary’s scholarship committee. 

“Scholarships in CTE fields not only support our youth, but often result in our youth growing in a career where they can afford to, and do stay in Bonner County,” Johnson said. “We work to align students with mentors when we can, which is a win-win-win situation. The student receives additional support through school, the contractor or mentor receives additional help and can mold the employee into what benefits their line of work, and the community gains a more skilled workforce and supports a need in the region.”

This year, the Sandpoint Rotary awarded $48,000 in CTE scholarships.

“I have seen statistics that suggest that for every dollar spent on CTE scholarships, between $5-$10 will be returned to the local economy,” Johnson said. “That would put our scholarships having a realized impact of $240,000-$480,000 to Bonner County.”

He has seen multiple students return to the area to work summer jobs and has seen others establish the beginning of their careers in Bonner County. One scholarship recipient was recently employed by a local plumbing contractor.

“Her skills are already being demonstrated in the community, and helping to fund her education will only help her grow,” he said.

Many students share concerns about moving away, saying they hope to return to Bonner County to live near family, Johnson said. Scholarships are one way to encourage those students in that path, developing competent and skilled employees for Bonner County’s workforce. 

“Many of those skills are immediately needed in the region, and result in high paying jobs that allow them to live in our wonderful community,” he said. “North Idaho is thriving and supporting workforce development will benefit everyone involved.”

Ponderay Rotary also supports local students through its scholarship program — awarding additional scholarships at SHS scholarship night. 

“We have an application that is very similar to other nonprofit organizations who also give out scholarship money and we work through the SHS counseling office,” said Tiffany Goodwin, president of Ponderay Rotary.

After the application deadline in April each year, the Ponderay Rotary receives all the applications that students submitted for that club specifically and officials begin reading and reviewing them.

“When we review the applications, we are looking for a student who has some volunteer experience or who has worked during some of the school time or is active in a lot of clubs/extracurricular, but also has success in the classroom,” she said.

At the end of May, the scholarships are awarded at school at a scholarship night.

“Many students receive on average four to six different scholarships from different organizations here in town that night,” Goodwin said.

Ponderay Rotary also celebrates scholarship recipients through a breakfast, which was hosted at Tango Cafe this year. All recipients are invited to share their plans during this time.

“It’s a nice gathering of graduating seniors and continuing education students along with their guest of choice,” Goodwin said. “Many times, their mom or dad come with them.”

She said many students over the years have returned to Sandpoint to live, work or start a business. One current Rotary Club member came back to Sandpoint as a nurse to work in the ER department at Bonner General after graduating from college.

“She received a scholarship from us for many years as she was going through nursing school,” Goodwin said. “Now she is a member of our club.”

Jeralyn Mire, post-secondary counselor at SHS, said she is continually impressed by the generosity of the community every scholarship night. On top of scholarships given to graduating seniors, the community awarded an additional $73,000 in scholarships to students currently in college or trade school.

“All of these wonderful community groups and people are helping to support our students with their post-secondary plans, whether it is college, community college, technical or trade school,” Mire said.