By Deb Silverthorn
Some students will get an early start to their 2019-2020 school year, beginning Wednesday, May 22. On that day, more than $130,000 of higher-education scholarships will be awarded to eligible students in Collin, Dallas and Denton counties by the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation. The awards will be announced, for the first time, at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.
“We take great pride in the administration of this unique program and its anonymous applications that ensure fair evaluation,” said DJCF Director of Philanthropic Advancement Mona Allen. “The scholarships were created by fundholders who care deeply about education, and we take seriously our charge to find the best candidates — those who will someday shape our community.”
The DJCF program, along with the Southwest Community Foundation, has grown to more than 37 funds. To determine their eligibility, students file a general application, which is then put into a pool for whichever scholarship(s) they are eligible to receive. In addition to general need, there are special scholarships available to students studying in Israel, at Southern Methodist University, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and for those from Texas towns with two or fewer congregations.
“The reception is a wonderful coming together to share the importance of higher education,” Allen said. “After navigating the selection process over the past months, the wait is finally over.”
The impact of the scholarships on recipients goes far beyond the provision of tuition and supplies. It has, in many ways, returned several recipients as supporters.
“I feel fortunate to have been on both sides of the process,” said Seth Kaufman, a Richardson High School alumnus and former DJCF scholar. Kaufman earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Texas, then a law degree from SMU.
“I had the honor to meet and grow to respect my benefactor Martin Samuelsohn,” said Kaufman, who is assistant vice president, senior legal counsel and the lead attorney for corporate social responsibility at AT&T, as well as a DJCF committee member for 10 years. “Serving on the committee, and reviewing the amazing students now coming through, I’m grateful to return and give back to the program with my time.”
Being nice to everyone because you never know whom you’ll sit next to at some time and place in the future is a sound practice. Lauren Leahy, for one, made a good impression in 2002, as a recipient of a $20,000 Toyota Community Scholars award, bestowed by Karen Polan, who, at the time oversaw Toyota’s scholarship program.
Leahy received one of the 100 scholarships out of 10,000 applicants, and attended SMU, going on to receive her Harvard Law School degree. She’s now the chief legal officer and general manager of Express Business, at Pizza Hut, LLC.
Polan, who last year retired from Toyota after 25 years, and who was one of the company’s early Plano pioneers when it moved to North Texas, worked in human resources and staff development, customer and community relations and strategic planning.
“Good ‘carma’ delivers good karma, we said, and part of my job was to deliver that karma in the form of scholarships,” Polan said. “We delivered needed resources, knowledge and funds in the form of scholarships, but rarely heard the rest of the story, how students progressed.”
Flash forward almost 20 years, and Polan and Leahy, strangers at a committee meeting of the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education & Tolerance, on whose board they both sit, exchanged pleasantries. Polan mentioned her history with Toyota, and Leahy was amazed.
“Through the years I’ve shared my story with individuals I’ve met from Toyota and here was someone who really touched my future,” said Leahy, who, long connected to human rights support, finds the Museum’s work touching her core. “I’m now proud to be on the corporate side of giving. Pizza Hut hosts a number of its own scholarship and educational opportunities.”
“We could only hope the grants were well spent and that awardees found a future and success,” Polan added. “It took nearly two decades for me to have something come full circle but it has, and what a special relationship it has become.”
Polan, a North Texas transplant of just nearly four years, is in awe of the overall generosity of Dallas’ Jewish community and the general community. As a member of the DJCF Scholarship Committee, she read and scored more than 100 applications.
“You never know how far your gift will go or how full your heart can be of joy. The generosity and the collaboration between corporations and individual donors here makes me very proud to call this home,” she said. “My passion has always been about education, and after some connections, I was invited to serve at the Museum. It’s my goal to help expand its mission to advance human rights to combat prejudice, hatred and indifference.
“How incredible — through this service — to reconnect with Lauren, someone so appreciative and who made the most of the scholarship,” she continued. “Now, not only an incredible professional, but one who has chosen to give back, and that’s what it’s all about.”
The 2019-2020 College Scholarship Reception will begin at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, at the Aaron Family JCC, 7900 Northaven Road in Dallas. The event is free but an RSVP is requested by visiting djcf.org or by calling 214-615-9351. For additional information, visit djcf.org.