Volunteer Corner: Local Kiwanis helping students succeed

John Stieve, at left, and Mark Heltemes of the Green Valley/Sahuarita Kiwanis in 2019. Heltemes said the Kiwanis scholarships for students hasn't received many applicants this year as the extended April 14 deadline approaches.

The Green Valley/Sahuarita Kiwanis members have more than $20,000 in scholarship money for Sahuarita and Walden Grove High School students, but few takers as the deadline to apply draws near.

Kiwanis Treasurer Mark Heltemes said the club has received five applications so far, and that's with members extending the April 1 deadline to April 14 in the hope more students would take advantage of the scholarships. He said that number should be about 10 to 12 applications.

"Kiwanis is a service organization," Heltemes said. "Our dedication is serving the children of the world – one child, one community at a time. We're the local group for that."

He said the scholarship money for SHS and Walden Grove is one of the club's most significant financial services.

"We're able to give away about $20,000 every year – sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less," Heltemes said. "It depends on the income from our investments."

And this year was one where they would have some extra to award, but the kids didn't show up.

Heltemes said he wasn't sure why there were fewer applications than usual. One factor he suspected is disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which impacted in-person learning and planning for the last year.

New faces

But Walden Grove school counselor Molly Benson said more students, including many new faces, applied for scholarships this year compared to 2020.

"I think a big reason for that was when the pandemic hit, there was a lot of confusion from both the students and our community members that offer scholarships to students here in our district," she said. "Just trying to figure out how to continue with what they were used to and how we would normally give out information. So it was definitely a transition process."

Benson found communication wasn't lacking this year between counseling staff and students as email interaction became the norm.

"Now that it's kind of one of the only ways to get a hold of our students if they're not here on campus – they're checking their emails much more often," Benson said.

Walden Grove started emailing students directly if they were eligible for scholarships.

Heltemes said the Kiwanis scholarship is good for four-year, two-year and trade and vocational programs. But the group is shifting its focus to students pursuing two-year, trade and vocational educations.

Benson found that each scholarship's process makes a difference when it comes to attracting applicants.

"For any specific scholarship, it's going to depend on what the application process looks like," she said. "And if the students feel like any particular application is asking more of them than they want to put forth in effort, then it may be a deciding factor. As well if more students are wanting to do a four-year university rather than a trade school or tech school. That could be a factor as well."

But Benson said she was happy Kiwanis members extended the application deadline two weeks as more students pursue trades after high school.

SHS and Walden Grove students can apply for the Kiwanis scholarships through their school counselors.

Trade work

Benson said more kids were looking to trades after high school than in previous years. And she’s noticed about a 50 percent increase in students taking Pima Joint Technical Education District classes.

“We had an extreme increase in students going to JTED this last year,” she said. “And it makes me so happy because it is a free opportunity for them to gain hands-on job skills and be ready for right after high school.”

JTED offers classes for technical skills students can take as part of their high school education.

Some of the students are getting jobs right out of high school, with internships, direct employment or employers paying for additional education as part of the employment process.

But Benson said some students would need scholarships to pay for technical school after graduation. And that’s where Heltemes and the Kiwanis members want to help.

“But basically, we’re thinking if someone wants to be a dental assistant, cosmetologist, a plumber, mechanic, electrician – any of the trades – because it’s been our observation that they get completely left out of the loop,” Heltemes said. “So we wanted to award those kids for the trades. We’re trying to shift that to our focus.”

Jorge Encinas | 520-547-9732