With the cost of post-secondary education dramatically increasing over the course of the last 30 year, students’ ability to receive scholarships is of the utmost importance.

According to a recent Sallie Mae study, “How America Pays for College,” 34 percent of the average tuition bill is being covered by grants and scholarships. What this means, said Melissa Diers, executive director of the Fremont Area Community Foundation, is that scholarships are no longer just a bonus for students who want to pursue a college education.

They are now crucial in regard to bridging the gap between the increasing cost of tuition and what students and their families can afford to pay out of pocket.

On Sunday afternoon, the Fremont Area Community Foundation and the Fremont Health Foundation hosted the annual Scholarship Luncheon held at Fremont Golf Club.

During a Tuesday interview with the Tribune, Diers said that the Fremont Area Community Foundation administers nearly 70 scholarship funds. This year, the Foundation received 875 scholarship applications and proceeded to award 87 scholarships totaling more than $77,000 to graduates of 10 high schools in the greater Fremont area.

Many recipients of the Fremont Area Community Foundation’s scholarships also receive financial aid through the Fremont Health Foundation, so it makes sense for them to co-host the Scholarship Luncheon together, Diers said.

“It’s no secret that higher education is a stepping-stone to a better life,” Diers said. “Even during challenging economic times, a college diploma or professional certificate is a key to opportunity. College helps families pull out of poverty and the effects of education are felt across communities and through generations.”

More than 129 people reviewed scholarship applications this year, Diers said.

“It truly takes a village to help these young people purse their academic aspirations,” she said.

Many people in the Fremont community, Diers said, believe that donating money toward scholarship opportunities is a great use of their money.

“They (scholarships) provide individuals with a unique way to give back to people in our area,” she said. “Lots of scholarships are established by Fremont area families who have lost a loved one and who wish to memorialize that individual.

“Others are established by people who wish to honor someone who played an important role in their life – say a coach or teacher. Still, others are established by people who love education and who want to provide opportunities to children in our community.”

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Sarah Leeper, a 2015 Fremont High School graduate, spoke to the group of students gathered for the scholarship luncheon.

Leeper was previously an honored recipient of a Fremont Area Community Foundation Scholarship. After traveling the world as Miss International Job’s Daughter in 2015, she then moved to the South Loop of Downtown Chicago to begin her college career.

Leeper is now a youth motivational speaker studying under one of the country’s top youth speakers, Josh Shipp, as a member of his Youth Speaker University. She is also earning a degree in Marketing from Columbia College Chicago.

“She delivered a message that was really inspiring and encouraging,” Diers said of Leeper. “She told them (students) to follow their dreams fearlessly and to take chances when it makes sense to take those chances. She told them to be fearless about pursuing their goals – it was the perfect message for the young people that were there on Sunday.”

Education is, and will continue to be a focal point of emphasis for the Fremont Area Community Foundation.

“Education is one of the Foundation’s fields of interest, and it makes sense that we provide support not only for education institutions that are providing programs and resources for young people, but that we also provide direct support for students to use as they pursue their post-secondary career aspirations, as well,” Diers added.

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