Created to overcome barriers so many women confront, the local Minerva Scholarship Fund has given $500,000 over 30 years to more than 200 Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula women to help complete their education and fulfill their dreams.
Nine residents received $55,000 last year, including two from the Key Peninsula.
Vaughn resident Sara June Gray received hers in 2018: $10,000 toward a teaching certificate and her master’s in elementary education, which she earned in 2020.
“I have a jewelry business (June Moon Jewelry) and I’ve done farmers markets and art events in the area for years,” she said. “I ended up next to another vendor who was selling scarves and other knitted items, raising money for the Minerva Scholarship Fund. I talked to them and learned it was for women going back to school after a gap in their education, and that was way back in 2011. I had two small kids at home, and I wasn’t ready, but I kept track of it for years and just waited until it was my time.”
Gray now serves on the Minerva Alumni Committee to spread the word.
“Because I was a recipient, I’m constantly looking for people who might want to go back to school,” she said. “I think if more people knew there were opportunities out there, they would look into it a little bit more. Most scholarships are designed for people coming out of high school, but with this one you tell your story and really talk about your individual needs and the dream that you have for what you want to do.”
The scholarship is aimed at getting women to finish their education, but can include more than tuition assistance.
“Whether they know or not specifically what their education journey is going to look like, I would encourage them to apply because they don’t know how much the fund could help them,” Gray said. “Sometimes people needed as little as a set of tires so they could commute to school, or getting their prerequisites. They’ve given out small amounts and they’ve given out very large amounts depending on people’s needs and they’re very conscientious about saving enough money so they can do that every year.”
Sarah Whitmarsh of Lakebay first applied for a scholarship in 2019 after she was asked to post an advertisement for it at her workplace.
“I received scholarships each of my four years of graduate school,” she said. “Minerva really wants to support recipients in achieving their goals and therefore invests in continued financial support over the course of a woman’s education.”
Whitmarsh had earned a bachelor’s degree years earlier but then focused on work and raising her children.
“I have already completed my graduate certificate in social gerontology with a concentration in interior design,” she said. Later in the spring she will receive her master’s degree in social gerontology.
According to the fund history, in 1991 three Gig Harbor friends — Col. Sybil Mercer, Ruth Taylor and Col. Florence Casey — founded the Minerva Scholarship Fund as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization with $15,000 of their own money. The American Association of University Women of Gig Harbor contributed a matching $15,000 and by 1993 the fund began offering scholarships to women in the community.
Scholarship winners have used their awards to finish undergraduate degrees or post-grad studies, or to get vocational training. Recipients have earned certificates and degrees in environmental science, criminal justice, gerontology, truck driving, social work, screenwriting and medicine.
Applicants must live or work in the Peninsula School District, have experienced an interruption in education of at least one year, intend to return to school to earn a certificate or degree and have a demonstrated need of financial assistance.
“Anyone who is considering applying for a scholarship will be happy to know they will find support and encouragement throughout their endeavors from a group of dedicated, kind, caring individuals,” Whitmarsh said. “Some recipients have had short breaks from school, others have had long breaks; some of us are just starting off on our vocational endeavors, others have changed careers multiple times; some of us have been single moms, raising kids while working full-time and completing coursework. But all of us feel so grateful for the donors, founding members, and long-term volunteers who continue to believe in our capacity to make a difference in our communities.”
The deadline to apply for the next academic year is April 15.
For more information, go to minervagigharbor.org
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