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Nooksack Valley Scholarship Foundation About to Eclipse $1 million in Total Awards

Jeff Price and Steve Jones, president and treasurer, respectively, of what is now known as the Nooksack Valley Scholarship Foundation, once joked that if they could ever grow the foundation’s permanent fund to $100,000 they would retire. Now, 20 years later the permanent fund has over $1 million dollars and with the upcoming 2018 awards the foundation will eclipse $1 million worth of scholarships over its lifetime.

The two haven’t missed a step along the way.

“Our mission has always been,” Jones says, “we can’t pay for your college education but we can help you get started and show confidence in you to help you get started wherever you want to go.”

Twenty years later, that guiding principal that launched what was then known as the Nooksack Valley Dollars for Scholars still rings true.

“It takes a real commitment,” Jones says. “A real commitment to maintain the permanent foundation and not spend that and only spend the earnings.” And committed volunteers too, Price says.

Three of the original founding members, Price, Jones and Sue Ann Heutink, still serve on the 12-member board. The effort all started in the spring of 1997 when a local accountant had a client looking to plan their estate and designate funds to Nooksack Valley Schools for use as a scholarship. “If there is somebody who would like to put some money to work in our community, that sounds like a good reason to get together,” Jones says of the original founding group. A mixture of community members from Sumas, Nooksack and Everson joined together and by 1998 the group was off and running, landing a $21,000 check from the Francis Alfred Baker estate to get things going.

From there, the group did bake sales and auctions in an effort to reach $100,000 in the permanent fund, allowing it to award from interest earned on the money. Jones, the treasurer since the start, and Price, president of the foundation since 1999, say the big leap came from the effort of former Everson police chief Erik Ramstead who helped land a roughly $750,000 donation from the Robert and Dee Mann estate in 2005. A few more significant contributions, such as $100,000 from the Catherine Snider estate and over $125,000 from the Horn Memorial and the fund reached over $1 million about five years ago. The foundation left the Dollars for Scholars umbrella in 2013 and has functioned as a fully independent nonprofit ever since.

Jones says from estate donations to ongoing contributions, such as the Nooksack Valley Schools employees giving a total of $78,000 over the foundation’s lifetime and a group of alumni out of school for 50 years or more giving $12,000, the funds keep pouring in to help students.

All along, the focus remains simple: Nooksack Valley High School seniors. Awards are given as a one-time scholarship paid directly to the school, at a minimum of $500 and as large as $7,500 in special cases. In 2017, the foundation awarded $72,600 to students. Over time, it has given out 706 scholarships for $925,250. Jones expects to award at least $75,000 this year to push them over the $1 million mark. What started as a total of $9,000 in scholarships in 1998 certainly has grown, reaching $80,000 some years.

And the seniors have shown appreciation. “Now, we have half a dozen of our board members as Nooksack Valley graduates and former scholarship recipients,” Price says. While maintaining a core group on the board over time, the new, more recent graduates have helped keep the foundation moving forward.

Every spring Nooksack Valley seniors have the opportunity to apply for the scholarship (the 2018 deadline has passed), with local teachers and counselors often leading the marketing effort. From there, a selection committee made up of foundation board members scours the applications, looking over everything from grades to community service to a required essay.

The 30-plus applications get reviewed anonymously and are then ranked, a “tedious” task. Some of the permanent foundation money comes with guidelines for award, such as an area of study. Once money is given, it becomes the sole discretion of the foundation to choose the recipient, but givers may set guidelines. From there, the money starts flowing to the school of choice for the students and the styles of school doesn’t limit the foundation.

“Whether it is a beauty school or Yale University, I write checks to the schools they attend,” Jones says, “and I’ve written to Ivy League schools and Bellingham Beauty School. We can sure help students get started.”

“It is amazing the confidence,” Price says, “that students can get from $1,000 or $1,500.”