Michigan Pagan Scholarship Fund ramps up efforts

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DETROIT, Mich. –The Michigan Pagan Scholarship Fund announced its second annual winner last week, naming Rebecca Phoenix as the 2015 recipient.

Rebecca A Phoenix lives in Ferndale, Michigan, and recently graduated from Ferndale High School. Rebecca Phoenix is a die-hard history, mythology and art buff. Put these passions together you get a direct line to studying museum sciences. Rebecca will be attending Oakland Community College in the fall for her associates and then will finish her degree at Wayne State University. In the summers she will be performing with the Legends drum core marching band, competing all over the Midwest.

Phoenix’s essay was selected by the Board of Governors of the Michigan Pagan Scholarship Fund, and for that she will be awarded $500 a year for the next four years. This commitment is a significant step up from its predecessor organization, the Tempest Smith Foundation (TSF), and seeks to widen the trail that was blazed by that non-profit. TSF provided scholarships as part of a mission focused on encouraging religious tolerance. As reported by The Wild Hunt in late 2013 as TSF was winding down operations, teaching tolerance was important to the foundation’s late founder, Denessa Smith:

Before passing away, Denessa’s dream was to award TSF college scholarships. The recipient would be chosen through a contest in which students would submit a 300 word essay on the meaning of ‘tolerance.’ Annette [Crossman, who succeeded Smith in leading the foundation] fulfilled this goal. Since 2010, TSF has given out 6 $500 dollar scholarships to Michigan high school seniors. At ConVocation 2014, TSF will award three more scholarships – its last action before closing down operation.

Gordon Ireland, administrator of the Michigan Pagan Scholarship Fund, told The Wild Hunt how this one aspect of TSF’s work has been carried forward. “I took over doing this because I also run the Midwest Witches Ball . . . and the Ball was always a strong supporter of TSF, in donations and promotion. When they closed down, [I] just hated to see it go away,” he said.

Actually establishing a scholarship according to IRS requirements is by no means an easy feat. However, it was completed timely enough so that there was no gap in offering a scholarship opportunity for Michigan Pagans. Specifically, the eligibility criteria are:

  • Resident of Michigan
  • Self-identify as Pagan for at least one year
  • Minimum age of 16 at time of application
  • Senior in high school, or equivalent education
  • GPA of 2.85
  • Acceptance to an accredited college or university.

Applicants must be able to provide proof of the above requirements, including such things as school transcripts and letter of recommendations by a religious leader or other responsible adult.  They must also write a 500-word essay on how Paganism has changed their life, as well as a 250-word explanation for applying in the first place. That’s one of the differences between the new scholarship and that offered by the Tempest Smith Foundation. TSF’s essay requirements focused on the exhibition of tolerance, reflecting the organization’s mission.

Once the new scholarship is awarded, the recipient can renewed it annually three times for a total of $2,000 as long as they maintain a 2.5 GPA and otherwise comply with requirements set forth by the Board of Governors. That’s another big difference from the TSF program, which awarded a single amount each year.

According to Ireland, this longer-term commitment was made possible through the support of a number of other organizations. The Witches Ball committed to a dollar per ticket, which averages $500 in funding a year, and the Magical Education Council (organizers of ConVocation, where TSF’s founding ritual took place in 2003) has committed to a straight $500 annually. Pagan Pride Detroit organizers promised the proceeds from the raffle held at its annual event, and additional support has been provided by the Universal Society of Ancient Ministry, which provides the non-profit legal framework and local business sponsors. In addition to this ongoing local support, the scholarship is also the focus of two of its own fund-raising events each year.

“Creating a scholarship is about raising funds,” Ireland said. “If you cannot guarantee a certain yearly income do not bother, as all you end up doing is disappointing some kid.” With two scholarships to award, the organization will be doling out a thousand dollars this year, ramping up to the $2,000 annually to be divided among four recipients when it reaches its peak. Together with operational costs and publicity, the Michigan Pagan Scholarship Fund expects to need $2,500 a year. Ireland recommends that anyone wishing to copy this model take heed of the work-load, adding that having “a business networking model of raising money” is helpful. He also said “it takes a village to raise a child, or at least put one through college.”