HGHLANDS RANCH, CO (June 6, 2017) –Nineteen student servers who work at Wind Crest this year graduated from the retirement community's scholarship program. A ceremony at the 230-seat Arts and Enrichment Center on site commemorated the occasion.
Over the course of two years, these students have worked toward a scholarship to help fund their higher education at a four-year institution, community college, or technical school.
To receive the scholarships, students must work 1,000 hours between their junior and senior year of high school in the dining services department at Wind Crest. They must also have a graduating high school GPA of at least 2.0, remain in "good standing" as determined by their manager, and have been hired by September 30 of the summer preceding their junior year of high school.
But to community member Dot Poinsett, who chairs the 12-person scholarship committee with neighbor Ginny Murphy, it's much more than that.
"Those are the requirements that are set in stone by Erickson Living, but I think for all of us, it's the overall learning about the students that makes us so passionate about helping them achieve their degree."
What's more, she says, "The intergenerational interaction gives us a better outlook on life. We see these young people every day and hear about their lives. It's very enriching."
The scholarship committee evaluates each student to ensure he or she follows the program's guidelines.
The committee also voted to increase the amount of the scholarship from $4,000 to $6,000 in 2016.
With the cost of higher education rising, a degree is often out of reach unless a student receives financial aid. In his February 12, 2013, State of the Union address, President Barack Obama acknowledged the problem when he said, "Skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education or saddle them with unsustainable debt."
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of students receiving aid has been on the rise. Percentages vary depending on the type of school (public, private nonprofit, private for-profit), but during the 2013-2014 school year, it ranged between 83% and 89% for four-year institutions and 78% to 92% for two-year institutions—all first-time, full-time degree- or certificate-seeking undergraduate students.
In his address, Obama continued by asking Congress to change the Higher Education Act. He also proposed reform to the federal aid system that has been in effect since the early 1970s and, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, has "failed to keep up with the times."
Wind Crest residents not only acknowledge the growing need for tuition assistance, they also value the students who work in the community's restaurants. Several students have even returned to work in other capacities such as in nursing, sales, administration, or back to their roots in dining services.
Peter McCall started as a student server at Wind Crest in 2011 at the age of 15. He received a scholarship in 2013 and attends a four-year university. Since 2011, he has served in various roles in dining services, including server, food runner, peer trainer, restaurant associate, service coach, and dining supervisor.
This year, he was promoted to assistant general manager of the Fireside Restaurant. His duties include opening and closing the restaurant, helping to run the scholarship program, scheduling for the café, and developing the staff.
"I decided to continue working here because I love the team. Wind Crest has always been a place for me where I can grow and learn. Everyone here is dedicated to the same goal of always making the residents happy," McCall says.
"The scholarship has helped me because it contributes to my education and [helps pay] for it. I am very grateful to the residents and their generosity," he adds.
Similarly, Jacob Gaumer climbed the ladder in Wind Crest's dining services by receiving a scholarship in 2008 to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Having held nearly every position in dining services, he now serves as assistant general manager of Wind Crest's second neighborhood, which includes Windows Restaurant, Burton's Steakhouse, Timberline Tavern, and Blue Sky Bistro.
"The scholarship opportunity shaped my work ethic and drive to be as good of an employee as I could and appreciate everything," Gaumer says. "The residents here have so many wonderful stories and are so generous in offering a scholarship, which can help many young adults attend school in hopes that they can make a mark on life just as the residents have. The relationships I have built with [the people who live here] are invaluable, and I am so grateful for them."
The feeling's mutual for scholars and community members alike.
"I think it's such an advantage to us to have the students here serving us," Dot says. "We build friendships; they're just like grandchildren. When it comes to their education, I'm very much in favor of giving them a scholarship that may be the encouragement they need to further their education."
Wind Crest's Scholarship Fund by the Numbers:
153 students assisted since 2008
$162,917 raised in 2016
$500,000 raised since 2008
28 number of recipients in 2016
19 number of recipients in 2017
$6,000 of each scholarship award
$750 distributed each semester for four years
1,000 hours students must work between junior and senior years of high school in dining services