What’s in a name? In the case of the long-running Dollars for Scholars program at Lake Central High School, it’s much more than a catchy phrase.

For while there’s no disputing that the main purpose of the program is to dole out scholarship money to deserving LCHS students — to the tune of more than $1 million to some 1,500 recipients since the program’s inception in 1991 — the less tangible benefits of Dollars for Scholars are the many volunteer opportunities that help enrich the larger communities of both Lake Central and St. John, as well as the students themselves.

“When describing Dollars for Scholars, I always say there are two main goals or parts of the program — volunteering and scholarships,” says Ashley Kline, a school counselor at Lake Central who is entering her fifth year as the faculty sponsor of Dollars for Scholars. “The students of DFS volunteer at many school and community events — from elementary school fun fairs to memorial 5K runs, there are always DFS student members present and willing to help. Our goal is to show these students how even the smallest gesture like shaking a person’s hand or passing out candy at a Halloween fundraiser can have a positive, lasting effect.”

In other words, though most students exploring the Dollars for Scholars program are initially drawn by the notion of earning some money toward their college educations, they tend to come out on the other side of the experience with a life lesson in service and giving back that goes far beyond the potential scholarship awards at stake.

“Every April, we have a scholarship ceremony – or tea, as we call it – to honor our scholarship recipients,” Kline says. “During the ceremony, both goals of DFS collide. The hours of volunteering students complete and the hard work of a full year of fundraising are celebrated when these scholarships are announced and awarded.”

Participants in the Dollars for Scholars program fill out a registration form and create an online profile to be matched for scholarships, most of which have specific requirements, such as GPA, post-secondary plans or volunteer efforts. Throughout their membership with DFS, the students update their profiles with volunteer activities, goals, general information and answer essays. DFS scholarships are open from December through February, which is when senior students complete and submit their online profiles to be matched to the various awards, which are determined by a scholarship committee.

One of those students matched for the 2017-18 school year was 18-year-old Sydney Batinick, whose DFS renewable scholarship will provide up to $4,000 over four years to help defer her expenses at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, where she is beginning her freshman year with a focus on integrated supply chain management. While the scholarship money was certainly a welcome benefit of having participated in the Dollars for Scholars program, Batinick believes she got more out of the experience than just a check.

“DFS gave me the opportunity to work with so many amazing people on both the planning and volunteering sides of some great events,” she says, citing her work with the homecoming dance (one of DFS’ most prominent success stories), alumni class tours and the Ghouls at the School fundraiser. “I’m proud to have been a part of several events that have really grown the past few years. Knowing that I was able to leave a positive influence on the club and its members was the best reward of all.”

Kline believes that Batinick’s experience with Dollars for Scholars is similar to those of many of the students who come through the program, as they go beyond the idea of potential scholarship money to discover the value of volunteering and working with others toward a common goal. And she isn’t surprised when she hears the reactions of other faculty members and people throughout the community to the students’ efforts.

“Throughout the year, I receive messages praising Dollars for Scholars students from community members, parents and corporate employees who host events in which our students volunteer,” she says. “Hearing the positive impact and hard work DFS students display at these events makes me so proud. Sponsoring a club as large as Lake Central’s — with 180 students and a large parent component — is by no means easy. But when I read these emails and all of the amazing comments, it makes the extra hours and tough times worth it. The efforts and loyalty of the students, faculty and parents make me extremely proud to be a part of this organization.”