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College helping hands

Ashburn community helps students achieve dreams of higher education

Created date

August 23rd, 2011

This month, as students across the country embark on their college careers, 11 student employees from Ashby Ponds, an Erickson Living community in Ashburn, Va., will be doing so with the help of their friends the community members they serve every day. For the second time since the community s fall 2008 opening, residents raised enough money to award students with a scholarship of $1,000 a year, paid directly to the college or trade school of their choice. It s absolutely joyful to do this for the kids, says Doris St. Jean, who serves on the resident finance committee, which manages the scholarship fund. Our goal, as a community, is to award a scholarship to each eligible student employee who applies.

Building relationships

More than 90 high school students from Loudoun County and Fairfax County work for Ashby Ponds dining services in a variety of capacities, including servers, restaurant assistants, services coaches, and utility workers. Ashby Ponds has become a wonderful part of my life, says student employee Jason Allred. I can t think of any other job that is so interactive, caring, and fun. Coworker Kevin Balladares shares this sentiment. I m grateful for all that I have learned at Ashby Ponds, he says. I especially enjoy working for the residents and giving them what they want. To see them happy makes me happy. Our students are great kids, says Lisa Freire, Ashby Ponds staff development manager for dining services. They are strong leaders who help each other. They balance so much in their lives school, jobs, church, clubs, sports, homework and do it successfully. They know how to have fun at work without disrespecting the work environment. Community member Jan Saferstein agrees. The students are remarkable, she says. They really take care of us in a light, friendly way. Within weeks on the job they greet you for dinner by name. It s wonderful.

Payback time

As a result of the quickly forming bond between the community members and student staff, within months of the community s opening, plans were underway for a scholarship fund to support the students in their pursuit of higher education. We really want the youngsters to know how much we truly appreciate them, says Joan Lehman. I look forward to each meal knowing I will see these great kids. Enough money was contributed within the first year to allow for the awarding of six scholarships in 2010. To date, a total of $66,541 has been raised to support the students. To qualify for a scholarship, a student must work a total of 1,000 hours during their junior and senior years, have no adverse disciplinary actions on their record, have at least a C average, and complete all application materials.

Rallying the troops

To meet the scholarship s financial goals, fundraising efforts begin with a direct appeal to each community member. We send out a letter of appeal, along with information about the scholarship fund, says Jan. But we also plan fun events that keep fundraising efforts alive throughout the year. These events include a golden egg hunt, a duck derby, and a car wash. The duck derby is a huge hit, says Joan. We sell tickets with numbers on them. Each number corresponds to a rubber duck. On the day of the derby, all of the numbered ducks are placed in the community pool. Huge fans move the ducks across the pool. The first ducks to cross win prize baskets. It s an event that gets everyone involved, says Doris. We have residents in the pool to help. It s a lot of fun. Lots of people come out to watch. The last big event before the scholarships are awarded is the student-run car wash, raising over $1,000 each year. The residents frequently line up half an hour before the event begins and continue to come steadily throughout the day. Once the winners are announced, the students, along with their family, are invited to Ashby Ponds for a reception. We use this opportunity to get up and serve them for a change, says Doris. They think that s neat. The best part is seeing the pride in the parents faces, says Joan. When I moved to Ashby Ponds I wondered if I d have any interaction with the younger generation. I m so glad that I do, and I enjoy doing my part to send them off to college.