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Alumni group awards first endowed scholarship

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – For the first time, Bethel College’s African-American Alumni Association (AAAA) was able to present an endowed scholarship to a deserving Bethel student.

Travon Lewis, freshman from Houston, Texas, is the first scholarship recipient.

The AAAA established an endowment fund in 2005, after several years of discussion at AAAA reunions and meetings. The idea for the fund arose from the AAAA’s desire to be more involved in the Bethel community and to support students “of African-American heritage,” as stated in the scholarship guidelines.

The group raised funds through donations from alumni, class gifts and fundraising events including a regular Fall Festival booth, a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day program and portions of book sales.

The latter came from two books by AAAA’s immediate past president Sammie Simmons of Newton. He decided to donate a percentage of the sales of his books of poetry, New Beginnings and Tall Grass Prairie Offering Praise, to the endowment fund.

The other major fundraiser for the endowment came from the January 2010 Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration at Bethel. An offering taken at an evening program that featured a friend and co-worker of King’s, Vincent Harding of Denver, helped complete the goal of $10,000 needed for the endowment to fund its first scholarship.

Although the AAAA decided to give responsibility for deciding the recipient to Bethel’s financial aid department, the association did get to say what type of scholarship it should be and offer some insight into who should get it.

“We wanted to make sure it was given to someone who needed it,” Simmons said. “There was some discussion on: ‘Do we give it to a first-year, to someone who has been here for a while, to someone who is in the organization or in the multicultural group?’”

The financial aid office decided on Lewis, who said he feels very lucky and blessed to receive the scholarship.

“I think it’s a great honor … to receive the award,” Lewis said. “It means it was a blessing from God and only through him was this possible.”

Simmons hopes the scholarship will help the AAAA have more of a presence on campus and in the life of students.

“The biggest thing as far as expectations for our organization is that we are an active part of the Bethel community,” Simmons said. “We just want let people know that we’re part of the community and we’re going to continue to be part of the community.”

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2010-11 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is in the first tier in its category in the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of “America’s Top Colleges” for 2011. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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