The following unedited article by C & G staff writer Angela Fichera appeared in the June 12, 2002 edition of The Eastsider. Also appearing in this issue was our paid advertisement. Students truly do come first with the EDFT!
It all started with three in-house scholarships, and now those three have turned into 69 ranging from $250 to $5,000.
The East Detroit Federation of Teachers started the William Webb Scholarship, the Earl Christenson Memorial, and the Phil Gentile Scholarship Trust Fund in memory of these individuals, around 30 years ago, and today they are able to offer scholarship awards from 36 organizations to 52 students.
"After Phil Gentile, the former executive vice-president of the federation, left $2000 to East Detroit Schools when he passed away, the East Detroit Federation of Teachers School Trust Fund Board started putting money into a trust fund," said John Di Donato, the internal vice-president of the federation. "Now, that $2,000 has turned into $420,000, and we manage about nine other trust funds. Ten percent of the interest goes back into the trust funds and 90 percent is used for the scholarships, so the money is always growing," he said.
"Eventually I would like to get all of the trust funds' [interest] that I manage to be up to $10,000," said Di Donato.
"One of the convenient aspects of this scholarship program is that the students only have to fill out one application to apply to all 36 different scholarships," said Greg Knoblock, executive vice-president of the East Detroit Federation of Teachers. "Each scholarship is categorized, with some for music students, some for engineering, some for art, and so on. A board of seven people decide who gets what scholarship," he said.
The Federation also holds two fund-raisers per year, a spaghetti dinner and golf outing. "We put the money from the fund-raisers toward the principal investments," said Di Donato.
Every year the in-house scholarship program grows. This year, First State Bank started one, as did an East Detroit High School alumnus.
"A student from the class of 1966, who currently lives in Boston, called us up and wanted to start a scholarship for his class," said Di Donato.
"The companies and people that start the scholarships trust us to make the choices regarding who receives which scholarship and how to successfully manage the funds," said Knoblock. "It's a lot of hard work for us, but not for the organizations. We are a clearing house," he said.
"Each recipient of a scholarship writes a letter of thanks to the donor, and that organization or person receives a plaque as well, giving them a little PR," said Knoblock.
Although this is an extremely well organized program, it still takes up a lot of the federation and trust fund board members' time.
"We get an average of 70 applications, and we spend around 40 hours each, on our own, reading applications," said Di Donato. "We see this as putting your money where your mouth is, because we believe in education," he said. The awards are presented at East Detroit High School's Honor Banquet, which is held the Thursday prior to graduation. The whole thing is really neat," said Knoblock. "The kids really appreciate it," he said.