Local philanthropists Bill and Marty Paine have always been at the forefront of making sure children in this area get an opportunity to succeed. The couple have given financial support to numerous projects throughout the years that have not only bettered the community, but helped area youth in the process.
The Manistee County Commitment Scholarship Program allows children who might not otherwise get a college education to receive a free West Shore Community College education.
The program was put together thanks to the generosity of the Manistee couple who are financially supporting it and through the coordination of Launch Manistee. It is also a joint effort of West Shore Community College, Manistee County Community Foundation (MCCF) and six local school districts: Manistee, Manistee Catholic, Bear Lake, Onekama, CASMAN and Kaleva Norman Dickson.
In the fall of 2016 the program was opened up to 32 high school freshman students from Manistee County. For the past year those students have been meeting at various times with program director Beth Wallace to make sure they are on the right track academically, financially and socially ready to attend college.
“The first cohort had a really great year,” said Behm. “We call them our trailblazers because they were our first group and they visited the college several times. Our program coordinator did visits to all the area schools to check in with them and make sure everything was going well. She contacted the students, principals and counselors to see how they were doing in school.”
Recently area school officials nominated another 32 students who will makeup the second cohort that takes part in the program. Launch Manistee program director Mary Ann Behm said the program is progressing nicely with the second group of students.
“We are so excited as we have our second cohort of incoming students.” said Behm. “They were nominated in May by all the schools and they will be gathering together as a cohort some time this summer. We will be doing the induction ceremony out at West Shore Community College on Sept. 20.”
The college also sees the importance of the program because it gives an opportunity to students who most likely would not be able to afford to attend college.
“We continue to be humbled and inspired by Bill and Marty Paine’s vision, generosity and commitment to offer this valuable scholarship opportunity to Manistee County students,” said Thom Hawley, executive director of college relations. “Their gift is making a West Shore education accessible to students who may have thought college was out of their reach. Launch Manistee and the Paines are truly making a difference and helping these students reach their fullest potential through higher education.”
Behm said each school selects their students following criteria that includes financial need, first generation college attending students and that the school sees potential in that student to be successful in a college environment.
“The schools know their students the best and they do the entire nominating process through the schools,” said Behm. “Our program coordinator works with the schools to help them get through that process.”
Bear Lake principal Sarah Harless said she can see the difference it has made for her students and their families.
“The Manistee Commitment Scholarship provides an amazing stress relief to students and families that are recipients of the scholarship,” said Harless. “It shows students from early on in high school that they can have hope for their future education, that an education after high school is possible, and that we see promise in them for being the first in their family to go to college after high school. For families that have no college experience, the thought of it can be so daunting because they have no basis or experience, but this scholarship eliminates the biggest stress of entering college , the financial burden.”
Behm said the program did have one setback when coordinator Beth Wallace had to resign due to some family illness issues.
“So, we are actually in the process right now of seeking a new program coordinator this summer,” said Behm.
The program is an ongoing one where they will add new students every year, according to Behm.
“It’s such an amazing program for Manistee County kids,” she said.