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DACF plays key role in overseeing scholarships

IN A FILE photo, Dickinson Area Community Foundation Executive Director Tamara Juul, left, presents the Donald E. Nelson and Margaret L. Nelson Scholarship to Emily Forstrom, a past graduate of North Dickinson County High School. The Nelson family continues to support this scholarship fund through donations on holidays such as Christmas and Mother’s Day, and also in memory of extended family members, Juul said.

IRON MOUNTAIN — Managing scholarships is a primary function of the Dickinson Area Community Foundation.

“There are many scholarships that are available through the community foundation thanks to generous donors who care about the future of our region and its young people and their future,” said Tamara Juul, DACF executive director.

“We currently oversee 76 individual scholarship funds, all with unique parameters, qualifications and requirements,” Juul said. “Scholarship management was one of the core initiatives that community foundations started doing over 100 years ago and we’re still doing them today.

“Our community foundation is in the business of scholarship management and one of the biggest benefits is that we are responsible for all paperwork and responsibilities regarding the fund, including the tax implications and legal filings with the IRS.” Juul said.

“Scholarship funds and their applications are very labor intensive. The process of distributing and reviewing the applications, developing a selection matrix, working with selection committee recommendations and, once the recipient is selected, handling the transcript documentation and working with all of the secondary educational institutions, is all handled by our staff,” she said.

For students chosen for renewable scholarships, the community foundation must track them through college, verifying transcripts to confirm they remain in school.

DACF works with eight area school districts with help from affiliates in Norway and Crystal Falls. Checks from the foundation are made out directly to the school the student attends.

“I think that’s an advantage as well because it’s much quicker and efficient and as long as the transcripts are in, the checks go out,” she said. The foundation recently upgraded to new software that makes the process work better.

The minimum requirement to start a scholarship fund is $15,000, but the foundation is willing to work with donors and build up to that amount over several years. Once an endowed scholarship fund has been established, donors do not have to add more money unless they want to increase the base, Juul said.

“Many times families find that at Christmas time or Mother’s Day or any holiday, they decide to make a memorial contribution to add to the growth,” she said.

As with other endowment funds, people will establish scholarships for areas of learning they are passionate about, such as nursing or music. Sometimes a scholarship fund is in memory of a loved one who has passed away and is dedicated to assist students in pursuing a degree in a field important to their loved one.

“Once a fund is established, donors can be as involved as they choose,” she said. “Sometimes it’s too emotional — for example, if it is a memorial scholarship fund in memory of a spouse or a child — they might not want to be directly involved with the process immediately,” Juul explained.

This is where the community foundation thrives, she said, as the donor can dictate the parameters and requirements for the scholarship and then let the foundation handle the details. Donors can make changes to those designations at any time.

At the donor’s request, some scholarships may require applicants write an essay on why they want to go into a chosen field. Other funds consider financial need or academic achievement a higher priority when evaluating the applications.

“We do encourage people to be as general as possible within their intent to allow for more students to apply for the scholarship.” she said.

Each scholarship has a committee that evaluates the specific applications and selects the scholarship winner. The make-up of the committee is directed by the donor and administered by the foundation. Some scholarships are for a particular field, so the committee might consist of at least one person who is employed in that chosen field.

The Gust K. Newberg Scholarship was among the first established with the foundation. In recent years, four scholarships of about $8,000 each have been awarded to students entering the fields of construction, engineering or architecture. The scholarships are distributed to the students over four years while in school.

Rich Larson is one of the newer members serving on the scholarship committee, along with Bill Miller and Jim Benbow. He was happy to be able to help select winners, having been a Newberg Scholarship recipient himself as a Kingsford High School graduate in 1979.

“I thought it was an interesting way to give back to the group. I’ve known about it for a long time and it felt near and dear to me,” Larson said.

He moved back to the area after receiving his engineering degree and now is retired after 35 years with We Energies.

“We have found the community foundation easy to work with and efficient at what they do,” Larson said, adding, “If anyone is considering establishing a scholarship fund, we recommend the community foundation. They are in the business of scholarship management and perform their job efficiently and professionally.”

Sometimes the donor asks for assistance from high school administration in selecting a recipient, such as with the Donald E. Nelson and Margaret L Nelson Scholarship for North Dickinson County High School students. Four students were selected this past year for one-time $1,000 scholarships and one received a $1,000 scholarship renewable for four years. These amounts will increase as the fund continues to grow over the years.

One unique scholarship established with the Crystal Falls Area Community Foundation affiliate, The Raise Her Up Scholarship Fund, was created to empower young women in leadership, Juul said.

“Not only do they provide an annual scholarship for girls going on to pursue a degree, they also send high school girls to a leadership conference,” she said.

The foundation works with scholarship committee members from all over the country, Juul said. With the help of technology, they can scan documents and have Zoom meetings.

“Technology is definitely a great asset in our field at this time,” she said.

The DACF Investment Committee oversees all funds invested with the community foundation. The committee’s chairman is Bob Forgette, who was instrumental in forming the foundation in 1995. The committee has individuals with knowledge and passion about the current market who meet quarterly to review the funds, activity and balances.

The Investment Committee additionally maintains a relationship with the foundation’s investment advisor to ensure the funds are handled for the best return within investment policy guidelines.

“Scholarships are an amazing gift to the youth of our community. I think that Dickinson County has one of the strongest scholarship programs for high school students and we’re very fortunate,” Juul said.

DACF manages $11.5 million in assets and endowment funds that generate money to be awarded back to the community in the form of grants and scholarships.

But the COVID-19 situation this year has made its usual fundraising activities difficult. To make a donation, go to the Dickinson Area Community Foundation’s Facebook page, the website at www.dickinsonareacommunityfoundation.org or call 906-774-3131. Donations can be mailed as well to 333 S. Stephenson Ave., Suite 204, Iron Mountain, MI 49801. Donations are tax exempt and donors will receive a receipt.

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This is the last in a series of articles on the Dickinson Area Community Foundation, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

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