When Kay Merrick and Al Maloney attended an informational meeting 25 years ago to learn more about the Dollars for Scholars program, Merrick remembers thinking it was too good to be true.
"I was a skeptic," said Merrick, a former counselor at JE. "But Al said, 'we've got to give it a chance.'"
This year, the Jordan Elbridge Dollars for Scholars awarded 74 scholarships to graduating seniors at Jordan-Elbridge High School, a total of $48,150.
"I just joke now about how much it's evolved from popping popcorn and selling hotdogs to try and make the money," Merrick said.
The program has, in 25 years, put $613,169 into the hands of local students headed to college. And most impressively, all of those dollars are donated by local residents, business owners, and school faculty and staff members.
"In 25 years, this community has absolutely done an amazing job of funding, of putting money where their mouth is, and saying 'we appreciate you' to the students," Merrick said.
And what better way to recognize a student's hard work than by helping to fund the expense of higher education?
The national Dollars for Scholars organization advocates for students once they head off to school to make sure the scholarship money doesn't count against the student by being included in the family's expected contribution when financial aid is calculated. This is one of the unique aspects of the program that appealed to Merrick.
Some institutions also match Dollars for Scholars awards, doubling the aid students receive.
On the giving end, individuals or organizations who set up a scholarship can determine the criteria for their award.
For example, when the group named an award in honor of Merrick, she required the recipient to be nominated by their senior classmates.
That aspect of the program lets the individual scholarships -- many of which are set up in memory of community members and JE students -- reflect the personality of its namesake, or highlight a value important to the founder.