Michigan Gateway Community Foundation on track to make awards

SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — School buildings may be closed, but seniors are still making plans for their next steps past graduating high school.

Amidst the changing social and educational landscape that COVID-19 has created, the Michigan Gateway Community Foundation had already accepted applications for scholarships and grants for the fall 2020 school year. The foundation’s deadline for applying for scholarships was March 16. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s original mandate for school closure came into effect on March 16, so the foundation’s deadline was unaffected and stayed in place as planned.

The process from there has changed, but the foundation is moving forward, navigating the process to interview student applicants and give awards in time for the fall, according to those leading the organization.

“The COVID-19 issue did not necessitate us extending the application process,” said Robert Habicht, president and CEO of the Michigan Gateway Community Foundation, which serves southeast Berrien County and all of Cass County.

By that time, things were already set into motion within the foundation.

“We had review panels for various scholarships already set up,” Habicht said.

Those reviewing applications are able to do so using the same software applicants used to apply, just from the back end.

“We anticipate the entire review process will take longer than normal, given the inability to interact with students in their respective schools,” Habicht said. “That will not prevent us from finishing it up and making grants to many area students who will use them to further their education come this fall.”

One of the biggest changes to the process students and those working with the foundation find themselves facing is not being able to host in-person interviews with students and award scholarships during school ceremonies.

“We can communicate via email and phone with student applicants if we need to get any additional information or clarifications of their application,” Habicht said. “If it is something any review panel feels is necessary for them to make a selection, the foundation can facilitate a virtual interview session via Zoom or Google Meet and take care of it that way.”

In 2019, the foundation both granted and distributed $77,470 across 45 funds. Some awards one-time grants, and others are renewable for up four payments over six years.

“We receive applications from about 120 students,” Habicht said. “Many of these are eligible for more than one of the scholarships, so these applicants are reviewed and considered by each of the committees assigned to a scholarship.”

One of the biggest changes to the foundation’s process this spring is that awards ceremonies will not be a part of their plan.

“With normal school activities now out the window, we will likely not have a chance to recognize our scholarship recipients at the school ceremonies that take place each spring,” Habicht said. “We hope to make up for that by using social media recognition of recipients, press releases and any other options we might find.”