Foundation provides scholarships to PUHSD students

The Phoenix Union Foundation for Education provides college scholarships to some students and innovation grants to teachers and faculty members in the Phoenix Union High School District. (Nicole Neri/DD)

The Phoenix Union Foundation for Education is working to combat college affordability challenges for students through its annual fundraising and scholarship efforts.

The foundation provides scholarships to students in the Phoenix Union High School District who are going on to attend two or four year colleges after high school. The foundation also provides innovation grants to teachers and faculty members in the district to fund school programs.

Phoenix Union High School District has 82 percent of their students in the Free and Reduced Lunch program, according to Craig Pletenik, a spokesperson for the district and a member of the foundation.

“You hear their stories, and they really communicate how important receiving scholarship dollars in general, and particularly receiving Phoenix Union Foundation dollars can help further their education,” said Jason Gellman, president of the foundation. “So I think we’re providing a vitally important role in that regard.”

Pletenik said that the district has learned from surveys of students that the number one obstacle to furthering their education is not being able to afford it.

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The foundation gave away scholarships to 69 seniors last year totaling $110,500. Pletenik acknowledged that the majority of students don’t receive scholarships from the foundation, but also said only 43 percent of the district’s graduating seniors attend college directly after high school.

“Unfortunately, we can’t give scholarships to everybody who applies,” Pletenik said. “We may have 200 kids apply in a year and you know we might only give out 50 scholarships.”

The Phoenix Union Foundation directly offers students two different scholarships: $8,000 renewable at $2,000 each year, or $1,000 nonrenewable scholarships.

The foundation also sponsors other organizations and individuals who want to create their own scholarship. The foundation helps these organizations by allowing them to create the scholarship under their “umbrella,” as it was referred to by Gellman.

These umbrella scholarships are created in varying amounts and are given to different types of students depending on the nature of each scholarship.

“What an entity can do is they can say, ‘Hey, look, we want to give a $1,000 scholarship for this type of student,’” Gellman said. “Maybe it’s a student from a particular ethnicity, maybe it’s a student that is looking at particular subject matter, you know, pursuing a career in mathematics, for example.”

To be eligible for the foundation’s core scholarships students just have to attend a Phoenix Union High School. The application process requires a letter of recommendation, a personal statement and current transcripts.

Pletenik said that the foundation looks mostly for students who have a strong desire to further their education, and not necessarily just those students who perform well in school.
The majority of the foundation’s scholarship money comes from donations and their fundraising events, Gellman said.

The foundation is throwing its annual scholarship dinner in February. This school year’s dinner will be held Feb. 23, 2018, and individual tickets will cost $250. The foundation also holds an annual golf tournament in May.

Organizations and individuals can purchase tickets for these events separately, or through the foundation’s Annual Giving Campaign which bundles the cost of the events together.

The Annual Giving Campaign was officially created in 2015 to ease the cost of the events in order to get more sponsors and donors to attend, according to Gellman.

Gellman said their scholarship dinner was a “vital event” to raise money and visibility for the foundation. He said the dinner and the giving campaign have been the biggest contributors to the foundation’s endowment fund.

The foundation’s endowment fund officially has half a million dollars, said Gellman. This fund has established permanence for them.

Pletenik said that the foundation has given out over one million dollars since its founding in the 1980s.

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