Lake groups are raising money to invest in young people through college scholarships.

In just a few months, four very happy high school seniors will learn a lucrative lesson — how their lake community cares for their future. They know, of course, that they’ve applied for scholarships from organizations around Lake Mitchell, Smith Lake and Weiss Lake. But they won’t realize the personal triumph until their name is called at pregraduation awards ceremonies this spring.

Ashley Lanier, a freshman at Auburn University at Montgomery, remembers the moment from last year. “There were other students from Chilton County High School trying to get the scholarship, but when they said my name I looked at my mom and was in shock. I actually got it.”

Rebecca Beaty, who heads Lake Mitchell’s Home Owner Boat Owner (HOBO) scholarship committee, presented Lanier $2,500 to launch her accounting studies. “This is a good time and a good thing for everybody involved,” says Beaty of her lake’s seven years of HOBO scholarships.

The award amount and selection process differ from Smith to Mitchell to Weiss, but the common denominator is the same: students of excellence reaping rewards. Beaty explains that the Lake Mitchell program involves multiple factors: residency in Coosa or Chilton County, a paper application, a personal interview, participation in a lake cleanup activity and an Alabama college choice. Candidates also submit an essay addressing the topic “The most important environmental issue that relates to you and what can you do to make a difference.”

“Sometimes you think it’s asking a lot to go through all those steps,” Beaty says. “But we want them to think about the environment.”

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Weiss Lake Improvement Association also thinks in environmental terms. Scholarship chair Carol Landrem explains that annual awards of $500 go to two students planning environmental careers.

“It can be some type of environmental field, like soil and water conservation, maybe forestry,” Landrem says of the scholarship program for Cherokee County students, now in its 12th year. “If someone is going into hydro engineering or biology, those can have something to do with the land and water, too.”

Some weight goes to participation in events like Renew Our Rivers and the Ground Water Festival (for county fourth-graders). Grades and a counselor letter also factor into the final selection.

Planners at Smith Lake can look to Landrem and Beaty for inspiration as they launch their first scholarship awards this year. The late LaVerne Matheson, a transplant from Florida who championed Smith Lake water conservation, sparked the notion of scholarships and, in his memory, the award is titled the Winston County Smith Lake Advocacy Inc. LaVerne Matheson Scholarship.

“We’ve spent close to a year finalizing the wording and the requirements,” says Jim Eason, president of Winston County Smith Lake Advocacy. A late April deadline is set for applicants from Winston County schools, home-schooled students and West Point High School in Cullman County (included in the Rock Creek Watershed, the geographic area of eligibility). One scholarship of $1,000 is the first-year award.

As Smith Lake’s effort begins, Lake Mitchell’s grows. Beaty proudly reports the expansion this year to two students receiving $2,000 each, a positive result of accelerated fund-raising. Especially poker.

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“I’d never heard of a poker run but it turned out to be a blast,” she says. Last summer, 48 participants paid $25 each for a map to eight Lake Mitchell docks and boathouses.

“They’d draw a card at each stop and then come back at a specific time to submit their best five-card hand for the grand prize (half the proceeds),” she continues. “We also sold Lake Mitchell calendars with photo scenes submitted by people around the lake. With $15 each for the calendars, the poker run and additional money from donations and memorials, we’ve made enough to cover the scholarships.”

Lake Mitchell’s second annual Poker Run, expanding from one deck to two (104 possible hands), is scheduled for June 4 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The scholarship funds at Weiss and Smith lakes come largely from membership fees and donations from people committed to the importance of the waters.

“I feel like every citizen should give back to his community,” Landrem says. “I tell people I’m not a biologist, I’m not a scientist, I’m not any kind of ‘ist’ — I’m just a person that loves and enjoys the water. I see my grandchildren enjoying fishing and boating, and I want to see the lake water as clean and abundant as possible for them.”

Lake Mitchell’s Beaty echoes the thought. “The original board who started our scholarship wanted to be good neighbors to the people with whom we share this lake,” she says. “These students are our future and it makes you feel really good to meet them and realize there is hope for the environment.”

More from the Winners:

ASHLEY LANIER
Award Year: 2015-16 from Lake Mitchell HOBO
Hometown: Clanton, Chilton County
Current School: Auburn University at Montgomery
Hardest interview question: “They asked who I look up to and why. I said my Mom because she’s been a single mom most of my life and has provided so much for my sister and me. She has basically pushed us to the best we can be.”
Lake cleanup: “I was only required to go once but I did it twice and I plan on going back. We split up in groups and went out on Alabama Power boats using little sticks to get the trash out of the water. There’s more gunk than you expect. We found so many Solo cups and a whole chair from somebody’s deck.”
Reflections: “The scholarship money helped so much. I’m grateful that I could do something for the community while helping myself get through school.”

BRANDON MERCED
Award Year: 2014-15 from Lake Mitchell HOBO
Hometown: Rockford, Coosa County
Current School: Faulkner University
Essay: “I wrote about how we as individuals can do something to stop the horrible effects that littering and pollution have on our lakes and ecosystem. I said the main root of the problem is to stop it when it gets to you. Start with yourself.”
Where will you be in 10 years? “When asked, I told the selection committee I have a love for helping people so in 10 years I want to be helping the people of Coosa County and bringing us into the future. I still live in Rockford and won’t leave.”
Goal: “I transferred to Faulkner from Auburn because if I maintain a 3.0 and make a 150 on the LSAT I go to law school for free. I’ve already run for public office.”
Reflections: “The monetary scholarship was great, but the whole experience of meeting the people during the lake cleanup and the interview made a big impact. I got more out of it than just the money.”

Carolanne Roberts

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