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Developing a Local Scholarship Program

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Keith Wolff used a variety of resources to build a youth scholarship program for his community.

Keith Wolff had two nominations for the 2017 Ratchet+Wrench All Star Awards, one from Michael Thibault, owner of Strategic Marketing Systems, and the other from Bobby Poist, business coach with ATI. One common thread between the two nominations was that Wolff, the owner of Oswego, Ill.-based Keith’s Car Care, and his staff have found numerous creative ways to help out the surrounding communities.

He sponsors numerous sports teams, from Pony League baseball teams, youth tackle football, and high school sports booster organizations. His shop is also a drop-off location for the Kendall County food pantry and holds two blood drives per year, where he donates an oil and filter service to anyone who donates blood.

But one of the most notable contributions Wolff has made, according to Thibault and Poist, is his automotive scholarship program, which has continually evolved throughout its five years in operation.

He started this program to help local youth in the area looking to start a career in the automotive industry, as he saw they didn’t get much financial help.

“The first year we raised $500 for each school,” Wolff says. “The community got behind it, and the next year we did two $750 ones. This last year, we had $2,000 to split up, so we did four $500 scholarships.”

From his five years of experience, here’s Wolff’s insight on how to run an effective scholarship program:

Find fun ways to fundraise:

To raise money for these programs, Wolff reached out to members of his local community for help.

In his first year, Wolff started a road rally and scavenger hunt called Rally Through the Valley, which gave participants a list of clues and directions to earn tokens throughout the community. It was well attended with roughly 25 participants, but it proved too labor intensive, and difficult to duplicate.

The next event Wolff came up with was Meat-a-Palooza, or MAP, which features the best amateur chefs in the area cooking various meat dishes, and has proven to be a much bigger success. Wolff has held the event for the last four years, and last year raised $2,300 for the scholarship fund. He’ll bring MAP back again this year, with hopes of improving on last year’s record.

Have a simple selection structure:

Currently the requirements for this scholarship are that applicants need to carry a B average in school, and need to submit an essay on why they want to join the automotive repair industry.

Student applicants must attend one of the local Oswego high schools. The 250-word essay must describe why he or she has chosen the automotive industry as his or her profession, and what college or trade school he or she plans to attend. The essays are collected by the end of April each year, and reviewed by the scholarship committee.

Wolff put together a scholarship committee that consists of himself, his wife, his service manager and one outside person to look at the essays and pick the winners. Wolff says that as long as a student fills out an essay, he or she shouldn’t be blown off, and is given a fair chance in the review process. Once they are awarded the scholarship, students are able to use the money on books, tuition, or entry-level tools.  

Look to get bigger and better:

With the entirety of this process, Wolff has given out eight scholarships. He hasn’t seen a strong volume of applications, with only four last year, but is working to improve on that.

He speaks to his local high school classes with around 20 students each, and talks to the teachers, trying to give them incentives to apply. With the growing interest in the community, and the increasing success of Meat-A-Palooza, Wolff has confidence in the program’s growth going forward.

“We might be able to spread some scholarship money further out than what we have now,” Wolff says. “If we could do four $1,000 scholarships, I’d love to do that.”

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