MERRILLVILLE | A record 38 Gary high school seniors were awarded $50,100 in scholarships from the Barden Gary Foundation at the seventh annual scholarship awards ceremony Monday at Avalon Manor.
The scholarship amounts ranged from $475 to $3,000. The foundation, created in 2007, is a nonprofit organization committed to creating scholarship programs for Gary high school seniors.
The Barden Gary Foundation has awarded 177 scholarships amounting to $414,750. Funding comes from annual fundraising events held by the foundation.
Twenty alumni spoke at the ceremony, ranging from current college students to college graduates. They encouraged the 2013 high school graduates to live to their fullest potential, surpass challenges and to never forget where they came from. They also thanked the Barden Gary Foundation for its support.
"The program has encouraged students to be focused, to excel and it encouraged them to step out of their comfort zones," said Chareice White, foundation president.
In the current school year, 165 students, who are from six high schools in Gary, were enrolled in the program. It requires students to maintain a 2.5 GPA, attend workshop sessions and create a community service project.
Brytnie Jones, a 2013 graduate of Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts High Ability Academy, received a $3,000 scholarship. She plans to attend Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., to study English and journalism.
"(The scholarship) is going to really help me a lot financially," Jones said. "There was a point in time when I didn't know how I was going to fund my college education."
Jones said she wants to have her own magazine company one day. In the crowd full of students, school faculty, foundation board members and supporters, applause rang throughout the night and tears were shed. White said throughout the event she felt like a proud mother.
Barden Gary Foundation Chairman Abu Young said the hardest thing was to divide the scholarship money among the students.
"Seeing students get energized and step up to do something — that dispels all of the negative things associated with Gary," Young said. "This generation is changing things, it's really inspiring."