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Monumental impact

Lori Roberts | Jun 26, 2018

A scholarship recipient poses with her certificate

When the Kiwanis Club of Tulsa, Oklahoma, began planning its centennial celebration, members considered building a monument. Instead, they chose to invest in the future. With the US$84,000 earmarked for a monument, the group instead funded student scholarships and teacher grants in the cash-strapped Tulsa school system.

“We talked about building monuments,” says First Vice President Steve Collins. “I thought, ‘Why don’t we plant some seeds and increase our scholarship offerings?’”

The club presented its awards at a sit-down dinner, followed by an after-party of fellowship and dancing. The group already has a rich history of awarding scholarships, but it opened its Student of the Year award to anyone who wanted to submit an application and essay. The winner, Marisol Jaramillo, received $5,000 for books, a laptop or other school expenses when she attends Tulsa Community College next year.

High school principals nominated candidates for Teacher of the Year, which carried a $2,500 grant. Two finalists received $1,000 grants, while the other nominees each were awarded $500. The club also donated matching grants to each high school.

Top winner Julie Skrzypczak, a Tulsa Webster High School math teacher, has a list of needs for her students. Her high school student body has a high poverty rate, and many have experienced traumatic childhoods, including homelessness or the loss of one or both parents.

Skrzypczak is playing with the idea of purchasing a classroom set of Lénárt Spheres, hands-on tools that help students explore geometry and expand critical thinking skills. She’s also considering a Google Home, an interactive tool that allows students to ask questions that might fall outside the teacher’s realm of expertise.

Other items on her wish list carry small price tags but have the potential for a big impact. Dry erase markers, for example, may be something families take for granted, but these seeds can be life-changing for Tulsa students. And that’s the point, Collins says. 

“If we’re going to solve problems, we’re not going to solve them overnight. We’re going to solve them by investing in the future, and that’s our kids and that’s our schools.”

The seed analogy doesn’t stop with the grant. The club decided to commemorate its 100th anniversary by sponsoring a Tulsa intersection in the city’s “Up With Trees” program. Trees will be planted as a lasting testimony to the club’s century of working with the city.

“We’ll still have that monument,” Collins says, “in a kind of way.”

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