Ohio Women Turns Loose Change into Big Scholarship Opportunity for College Students

Daily Point of Light # 6040 Jul 10, 2017
Left to right: Cyndee Bratz pictured with Winner Mansu, Amanda Swenski and Hannah Sivertson, who each recieved a Parma Council of PTAs Community Scholarship./Courtesy Cyndee Bratz

Cyndee Bratz, an avid volunteer, advocate and promoter of  public education, started a Community Scholarship fund for the Parma City School District 15 years ago. Her idea was to empower small businesses and community members to give in ways they could afford that would still make a difference. Dubbed Loose Change for Scholarships, the campaign solicited just that in labeled repurposed plastic containers placed around town. That first year, the program funded three $500 scholarships, one for each local high school. To date, Cyndee’s “loose change” has added up to make a big difference in young lives, raising $40,000 paid in $1,000 scholarships to forty deserving students.

What inspires you to volunteer? 

I’m not certain from where it stems, but, I have been volunteering since I was in high school. There’s always plenty to be done, especially for those less fortunate or with special needs. I have always felt that if I am able, I am happy to help out. While it is not at all my motivation, I have benefited more than I have given by being involved in my community.

Describe your volunteer role as it relates to community scholarships. 

I have been involved with scholarships with Parma Council of PTAs for more than 25 years – promoting, working with sponsors/counselors/organizations/scholarship committees, developing criteria for and evaluating applications, ranking scholarship applicants, planning events and presenting awards. The program is very extensive and it is now in its seventh decade. The many scholarship offerings are from specific sponsors (PTAs, school groups, alumni, organizations, etc.), and when I became president of PCPTAs in 2002, I developed the Community Scholarship. 

What’s different about Community Scholarship?

The idea behind it was to involve the community, including businesses, to a greater degree. Hundreds of smaller donations are collected throughout the school year from individuals, organizations and businesses who may not be able to sponsor an entire scholarship on their own, but can be supportive through the Community Scholarship. This creates the fund from which scholarships are awarded. The subtheme each year is “Loose Change for Scholarships,” with many small donations adding up to big scholarship dollars. Of course we also welcome and recognize larger donations and dedicated donations made in honor of, thanks to, appreciation of and memory of others. The contributors don’t know who the recipients will be, but they believe in our students and the value of continuing education. Although my term as president of PCPTAs concluded in 2004, I continue to serve as Community Scholarship Chairperson.  

Why is it important to you to support students in this way?

I have been passionate about education for as long as I can remember and a child advocate my entire adult life. By providing these scholarships, kids are receiving recognition for their accomplishments as well as financial assistance and encouragement to continue their education. As economic challenges have increased for many families in our school district, the financial support is even more critical for many students. 

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work? 

Knowing that I have been part of something positive that has met a need or may not have happened without my involvement is certainly rewarding. I am also nourished by the joy, gratitude and pride of the recipients and their families, knowing that the path to their future has been eased a bit by their scholarship award.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

We all have the capacity to have a positive impact on others and our community. I think perhaps some view volunteering as something for certain people with specific skills. One doesn’t need a big idea, great talent or loads of time to make a difference. There are endless ways to be involved. Help an elderly neighbor with a chore. Pick up litter in your neighborhood. Invite others to join in, especially children – help them grow the volunteer spirit.  eek out opportunities to be involved with non-profits in your area, something in which you have an interest (feeding hungry? rescuing animals? tutoring/mentoring kids? cleaning the environment? comforting the ill? clothing the needy? etc.)  The possibilities are limitless!

There is so much to be gained in personal fulfillment by being part of something bigger than oneself.

Do you want to make a diffference in your community like Cyndee? Visit All for Good to find local volunteer opportunities.

Jia Gayles