SUN CITY CENTER — When the Sun City Center InterFaith Social Action Council started up in 1971, its founders dreamed of helping the surrounding communities in many ways including donating to worthy causes and awarding scholarships to students at South County’s only high school- which was then East Bay.
By 1979 the Council had made enough money with its thrift shop to give three $500 scholarships.
“We’ve certainly grown since then,” said Barbara Lauer, who had the position of Scholarship Chairwoman with InterFaith from 1998 to 2011. This year Lauer has turned that duty over to Jane Trefren but she still remains active with the Council.
The Council is composed of representatives from nine houses of worship in the area and the thrift shop is now the Nearly New Shop located in the “alley” in the break between the two long buildings at the back of the east end of Sun City Center Plaza.
“The sales from Nearly New have climbed about $10,000 a year, especially since we started selling furniture,” Lauer said. “This year the scholarship budget is around $130,000.”
This enabled the Council to give out 68 scholarships, the largest amount on record.
That’s good, because now there are more schools in South County.
“We give to students at East Bay and Lennard and also some to the South County Career Center,” said Lauer.
Trefren said this year there were also three recipients from out of state with ties to the area.
The Scholarship Committee has to make hard choices because it gets so many applications. It’s developed a point system, so the members can be completely fair, the process of which was described in detail by Lauer.
Applications come in mostly from the school’s guidance counselors and are read by every member of the five-to-six-person committee.
Each member rates the application in points, which are based on income (need), grade-point-average and extra-curricular activities both in school and in the community. They also get points if they hold down a job while attending school.
“We don’t just give them for one year. We follow them the whole four years if they reapply,” Trefren said.
This means they must figure how many students (already receiving from the years before) will continue to be awarded an annual $2,000 scholarship before they can know how many new ones they can give.
Once they know this, they can see how many of the applicants they can serve. Then those with the highest number of points on the original application are personally interviewed.
“The points for each candidate are totaled. Every member’s total is counted,” Lauer said. Because the money is not unlimited, not every student can be chosen.
The selection process then goes to the personal interview stage held at the school. Points are given by each person doing the interviewing. And again, they are totaled.
“We try not to overwhelm them by sending too many people to the interview. We want to make the process as good for them as we can,” Lauer said.
Most of those chosen attended an afternoon luncheon at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Sun City Center Sunday, Dec. 16. Some could not come because they were working. Others came for short periods while on lunch or a break.
Members of the InterFaith Council explained that money has increased greatly since the addition of the sale of used furniture. Instead of one small room, Nearly New now occupies four spaces in the back of the plaza. Volunteers sort clothing, household items and when people are available to lift furniture, it can be picked up.
“It’s easy to see how a couch that can sell for $100 makes us able to give more than clothing that we sell for a few dollars,” Lauer said.
To find out more about donating, volunteering or applying for a grant or scholarship, visit http://www.interfaithcouncilofsuncitycenter.com or call (813) 642-9099.