Tag Archives: Lee Bollert

Tuition Grants Change Lives

Graduating senior Santiago Cuartas received 4 grants.

Last year, Staples Tuition Grants gave away $198,000 to 90 graduating seniors, and alumni already in college.

This year, they set a goal justthismuch higher:  $200,000.

But the economy remains weak, and every organization in town has its hand out.  When the final count was in, they did not give out $200,000.

Try $265,000.

That spectacular leap was accomplished thanks to a supreme effort by the Staples PTA.  Tuition Grants also made special appeals to past donors, reunion classes (new this year), and parents of graduating seniors.

The family of the beloved Lou Santella — who died in February — also gave fundraising a boost.  They named Tuition Grants as a recipient of gifts in Lou’s honor.

Last night, that $265,000 went right back out.  In a moving ceremony, 119 Staples seniors and alumni received grants that, in many cases, can mean the difference between receiving a college degree, or not.

Scott Bennewitz — Staples ’75 — described the difference Tuition Grants made to himself, his 2 siblings and his single mother.

Lee Bollert of the committee choked up describing the memorial award named for Ann Keister and Katy Macieski — best friends killed 3 decades ago, by a drunk driver.

Nellie Stagg — Staples ’09 — spoke with poise and pride of her many activities and projects at UConn.

But the highlight for me was watching so many deserving young men and women receive scholarships named for people I personally knew.  Some died far too early; others led long and fruitful lives.  All are now honored through named gift awards.

Dr. Jean Beasley.  Richard Cion.  Noel de Caprio.  Irwin Donenfeld.  Doug Donovan.  Chuck Elliot.  Sharon Frey.  Jim Gillespie.  Bill Horne.  Michael Kowall.  Phil Schuyler.  Betty and Ralph Sheffer.  Ken Sweetnam.  Joan Wilder.  Ted Youngling.

Their names do not mean as much to the recipients as they do to me.

But that’s okay.

The gifts that they inspired now have the capacity — 5, 15, 40 years later — to impact new lives.

And if, decades from now, today’s recipients pay it forward — as others have done for them — then all the names read aloud last night will truly live forever.

(Click the Staples Tuition Grants website to donate online.  The mailing address is PO Box 5159, Westport, CT 06881.)

An ABC House Landmark

A Better Chance of Westport is proud of many things:  The character and work ethic of the young “scholars” in its program.

The spirit of the ABC House on North Avenue.

The support of Westport families, institutions and businesses to help the ABC scholars achieve their dreams.

Now ABC points with pride to something else:  Its 1st 2 scholars have graduated from college.

Earlier this month, Shamir Clayton walked down the aisle at Emory University.  A few days later, Anthony Soto did the same at Assumption College.

Shamir — an economics major — heads to Orlando, to work for Coca-Cola in sales and marketing.  He just bought his 1st car, and plans to pursue a graduate degree.

Anthony — a business major — may work, or enroll directly in an MBA program.

They’ve come a long way from their 1st days in Westport, back in 2002.

Anthony Soto and Shamir Clayton, during their first days in the ABC program -- 8 years ago.

 “It’s hard to be an ABC scholar,” notes ABC co-president Gail Cohen.

There are high academic standards, and social restrictions.  ABC scholars can’t drive, for example, and spend 3 hours studying each night.

“But these kids come away with a skill set that enables them to be that much more successful,” Cohen says.  “When a college sees what our kids have gone through, they realize they’re stand-up young men who can succeed on their own.

“They go to college knowing how to study, and how to interface with different kinds of people.”

Scholars maintain their relationship with ABC long after leaving Staples.  The program provides money for books in college.  Graduates are invited back for the annual Dream Event fundraiser — and asked to speak, if they want.

Anthony returned one year with his girlfriend.  He wanted to show her the place that meant so much to him, at a crucial point in his life.

“Anthony and Shamir grew up with us,” co-president Lee Bollert says. 

“When they came here, we were like new parents.  We’d never done this before.  But their families trusted us with their sons.

“We probably made some mistakes.  And they had no older kids to guide them.  They had to be brave, and be able to take risks.  We appreciate them taking us on, as much as we took them on.”

And now — like “parents” everywhere — everyone associated with ABC will wipe away a tear, wish their “sons” well, and watch proudly as Anthony and Shamir make their way in the world.

While telling them, of course, that they’re always welcome back “home.”