The Grayson College Foundation started its annual volunteer scholarship drive with a bang this weekend — or actually a bang-bang, to be more precise. A kick-off reception at the college auditorium Friday night was followed in short order by a large banquet fundraiser in Howe on Saturday. Both events will help fund scholarships for needy students.

The Grayson College Foundation started its annual volunteer scholarship drive with a bang this weekend — or actually a bang-bang, to be more precise. A kick-off reception at the college auditorium Friday night was followed in short order by a large banquet fundraiser in Howe on Saturday. Both events will help fund scholarships for needy students.


Phil Roether, who serves as the drive’s co-chair with his wife Betty, said his passion for the project comes from an appreciation for educational philanthropy instilled by his mother.


"Education was always very valued in my family; my mother was a teacher for more than 40 years," said Roether. "When she got out of high school, she didn’t have any money, and she went to a doctor (and) asked him if she could borrow some money, and he gave her some money to go to college. She went back to him to start paying him back, and he says, ‘There’s only one way you can do that: You have to do the same thing for somebody else.’ That was inspirational for me."


The annual scholarship drive brought in over $300,000 in 2013 according to Tina Dodson, the foundation’s director of annual giving. That number represents more than half of the organization’s total scholarship disbursements.


"This year the Grayson College Foundation awarded 406 scholarships — about $587,000 in scholarships — and the average award was around $1,400," said Dodson. "It takes about $1,500 to pay for a full-time student, so it goes a long way, it really does."


The February-through-March fundraising push is anchored by "team leaders" in each of the county’s towns who work to drum-up volunteer giving, according to organizers. Roether said many people see it as an opportunity to keep their charity close to home.


"I could give money back to my college I went to, but they’re a large school. They really don’t need my money like this school could use my money," he explained. "Over 80 percent of the people that go to school here remain in the area. What does that do? That helps build up the skill level in the area, which now is more attractive to companies that want to move here, because they have a more skilled workforce."


The foundation holds a dinner event each November that brings together donors and the students they sponsor, said Dodson. Betty Roether pointed to last year’s gathering as a seminal event for her and her husband.


"We had a student at our table and she is married and has two children, and she’s also raising a baby that’s a sister’s," said Roether. "But she wants an education. Her husband worked full time, and she took care of children and went to school, and she needed financial help. … Phil and I both worked our way through college, and we know how difficult it is for students — particularly today because many of them have families — to get through college. So it’s sort of like paying back what we sort of had and wish we had, too."


Grayson College President Jeremy McMillen said the scholarships produced by the annual volunteer drive are vital for a college that serves many students from underprivileged backgrounds.


"They’re facing so many struggles, and sometimes this (scholarship) is the thing that puts them over the edge to be able to go (to college)," said McMillen at Friday’s event. "Scholarships for our students are more than money; they’re hope — ‘Somebody believes in me and wants to support me.’ Many times, it’s the first time a student has heard that message."