Beaufort News

One parent says she's confused, another short-changed by Strive scholarship program

The nonprofit mentoring group Strive to Excel has awarded more than $250,000 in scholarships since its inception, according to its website, and parents of several participating students say the money is an inducement that keeps them engaged in the organization's activities and fundraising.

However, some say there is confusion about how the scholarships are determined and funded.

And at least one parent said she had to confront Strive president and CEO Tim Singleton on multiple occasions to get the scholarship money her sons were owed and that they still didn't receive the amount they thought they had coming.

"It was not a malicious thing, I don't think, but (Singleton) was not about paying attention to details or making sure he was taking care of the students he said he would take care of," said Anne Bradley, former head of the PTSO at Hilton Head Island High School, where Strive is based.

Bradley's son Cooper graduated in 2003 and enrolled at the University of South Carolina. He thought he had earned a $1,500 scholarship but got no money during his freshman year, Anne Bradley said. About a year later, $1,350 was deposited in his student expense account at the U.S. Military Academy , where he transferred for his sophomore year, Anne Bradley said.

The delay repeated after her younger son, Logan, graduated in 2006 -- nearly 18 months passed before a check was sent to his school, and it was for $500, only about a third of the anticipated amount, Anne Bradley said.

Strive scholarship money is awarded based on a points system that is tracked by Singleton and that rewards students for participation in the group's activities, according to Bradley, parents of other scholarship winners and Strive board member Tom Gardo. The awards typically are announced at a year-end awards ceremony.

Anne Bradley kept a program from Strive's banquet that lists Logan as a scholarship winner. However, when referred to the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, a nonprofit group that administers a scholarship on Strive's behalf, she was told Strive had not reported her son as a recipient.

Community Foundation CEO Denise Spencer said last week that neither of Bradley's sons appear in the organization's scholarship database.

Strive's Community Foundation scholarships are funded by an anonymous donor, who makes an annual contribution, according to Spencer. Strive submits a list of scholarship winners it has selected to the Community Foundation, which then sends recipients paperwork to affirm their eligibility for the money. The awards are then sent directly to the winners' colleges.

Strive neither contributes to nor draws from that scholarship fund, Spencer said.

That came as a surprise to Barb Willett, a longtime Strive volunteer.

"I thought the more money we raised, the more money for scholarships there would be," Willett said. "How stupid was I?"

It's not clear whether the scholarships administered by the Community Foundation are the only ones Strive offers. Gardo has said he thinks the foundation administers all of Strive's scholarship programs.

Strive's website implies that donations go toward scholarships; its federal tax filings list expenses associated with a scholarship program, including pay-outs.

Singleton has refused comment on Strive's finances. Former Beaufort County Board of Education member Bob Arundell, who prepares Strive's taxes, has declined to discuss specifics of the organization's finances until a tax-filing deadline passes later this month.

Willett said her son, D.J., received the $2,000 Strive scholarship he was awarded after his 2009 graduation in full and on time.

Spencer, who has been with the foundation since 2006, said she doesn't remember the Bradleys' case or any situations like it. She said staff members who help administer the scholarship also could not recall similar incidents.

Anne Bradley said that they confronted Singleton after the Community Foundation told the family it had no record of Logan's scholarship. Singleton offered to write them a $500 check on the spot, she said.

They declined, but $500 was deposited in Logan's account at West Point shortly afterward.

"It's not about the money," Anne Bradley said. "This entire situation is really about right and wrong and making choices. It is not my place to judge anyone. I think Tim Singleton has helped dozens of students.

"I also think that if he had made some better choices with money, he could have helped hundreds of Hilton Head Island High School students."

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