Like many community-focused nonprofit organizations, many Junior Leagues around the country offer graduating seniors a chance to apply for a merit-based scholarship. While students typically need high academic credentials to qualify, one other thing makes a successful candidate stand out: a commitment to hands-on, focused community service. We call it “voluntarism.”

For example, the Junior League of Morristown has awarded 112 scholarships totaling over $155,000 since starting its Voluntarism Scholarships in 1986 as a gift to the community as part of JLM’s 50th anniversary celebration. Scholarships are awarded based on the applicant’s demonstrated commitment to voluntarism.  Secondary criteria include leadership, extra-curricular activities, scholastic effort and family responsibilities. Financial need is not considered. Both boys and girls are eligible to apply.

When you think about it, voluntarism is at the center of what Leagues do. Our members are all volunteers, of course, but more importantly voluntarism speaks to a willingness to commit as an individual to a team activity in which the group is able to achieve far more than the individual can acting alone.

But it’s also nice to see what a strong appeal voluntarism has for many young people, particularly when the media sometimes paints teens as selfish and unmotivated by social issues.

Here are some typical examples of scholarship winners:

The Junior League of Worcester cited Melissa Ewing, a graduate of Westborough High School in Massachusetts, for donating countless hours to volunteering in the Homework Club and Summer Program at Hastings Elementary School and has helped students with the lowest English-language proficiency learn vocabulary and sentence structure necessary for classroom success. Furthermore, Melissa’s leadership at her high school in leading and organizing her peers made Arts in the Common a huge success. JLWMA also honored Carro Halpin, a graduate of Algonquin Regional High School. Carro has participated in the Girl Scouts since kindergarten, earning the Silver Award, one of the highest awards within the Girl Scouts organization, for renovating the dining room and kitchen of the Friendly House, a homeless shelter for families in Worcester. Additionally, in her four years as class president, Carro
led and motivated her peers to become involved in Project Smile, to implement environmental week, to organize a holiday gift drive, and to donate to food drives benefitting local shelters.

The Junior League of Washington singled out Olivia Heffernan, a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School, for a $10,000 scholarship for her dedication to literacy and volunteerism. Olivia has volunteered for numerous organizations including F.S. Key School Summer Camp, Palisades Community Church, and schools and orphanages in Kenya and the Philippines.

And just to prove that not all League scholarship winners are young women, the Junior League of Westchester on the Sound honored Tucker White, a New Rochelle (N.Y.) senior with the 2011 Margaret Manley scholarship in the amount of $4,000. Tucker donated over 1,500 hours of community service to help restore several New Rochelle parks.

And these are just a few examples of kids who benefit from League scholarships every year. Maybe they can teach us all a lesson.