Chowderfest Saturday to provide college funding

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BENNINGTON — Over the years, Bennington's chapter of the national Dollars for Scholars program has seen its donations dwindle, and traditional merit-based scholarships still generally go to a small group of students.

Bennington Dollars for Scholars is working to change that situation with Chowderfest this Saturday, Feb. 9, from 12 to 5 p.m. at the Masonic Temple on Main Street.

Every dollar spent at the event will go toward scholarship funding for students who work at Chowderfest, investing their time in exchange for money for college.

Admission is $7, and there will also be a 50-50 raffle and prizes for the best amateur and pro chowder, in the form of a golden ladle.

So far, over 20 chowders have been donated from local businesses, restaurants and amateurs. The $7 admission price buys five "tastings" of chowder.

"There are some cool combinations," said Meaghan Morgan-Puglisi, of Bennington Dollars for Scholars. "I'm making a potato-leek chowder."

Bennington Dollars for Scholars came up with the idea for Chowderfest last year, part of an effort to create a flagship event for the program.

"We ended up settling on chowder because it's something that can be made in bigger amounts, people get very passionate about their chowders, and it's something that we don't have in our town so far," Morgan-Puglisi said.

Funds collected from the event go to Mount Anthony Union High School seniors who work the event. About 15 students are participating at Chowderfest.

Money is divvied up among students based on how many volunteer hours they've put in — not on their transcripts.

"Everybody else gives for academic merit," said Sue Congdon, president of Bennington Dollars for Scholars. "We want to support that student that may be going to a community college, we want to support that person that needs books. The B and C [grades] are just as good as the As."

This program allows kids who put in the time to get scholarship funding, Morgan-Puglisi said.

"Other students deserve an opportunity and a chance to pay for college not solely based on who's at the top of their class," she said. "We all know that the cost of college has been skyrocketing, and not just the people who are at the top of the class need to be able to go to college."

Nine times out of 10, Morgan-Puglisi said, the program's highest earners are not recipients of many other scholarships.

The last couple years, a lack of donations and the fact that various events have moved to times when students largely aren't available has decreased the funding the program can provide.

Events used to bring in about $15,000 a year. But the last couple years, that's been about $8,000.

"That's been quite a dip," Morgan-Puglisi said. And that's affected scholarship funding — students are now getting as little as $200.

"Which can still help pay for books," she said. "But [it's] not as much as we would like our kids to be getting."

A lot of colleges also offer matching scholarships with Dollars for Scholars, she said.

The town has also been "so strapped for money," she said.

"People are not giving as much as they did 30 years ago, or 50 years ago, when it started," she said, referring to Bennington Dollars for Scholars.

And, she said, the program used to have volunteers go door-to-door to ask for donations when it first started.

"That's not a model we can do anymore, for various reasons, most notably for safety reasons," Morgan-Puglisi said.

Bennington Dollars for Scholars is unique in its providing funds for students based on work hours, she said.

"A lot of other Dollars for Scholars is done with an application," she said.

Most places successful in that model have private donors, but the Bennington chapter has had a hard time getting businesses and citizens to donate large amounts of money.

"Mostly because of the economic situation in our town," Morgan-Puglisi said. "We see a lot of businesses closing, and the businesses that are here are strapped in terms of donations to everybody and everything."

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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