Like many students, Titusville High School graduate Jessica Hilburn didn’t how she would pay her $35,000 bill for her first year at Mercyhurst College. But then, the letter from Crawford Heritage Community Foundation came, informing her that she had earned the first Ross R. and Shirley A. Casella Scholarship. For each of her four years at Mercyhurst, she would receive up to $20,000 to cover the bill.
“Before I knew I would be awarded this scholarship, I had goals, but now I can allow myself to dream big,” said Hilburn. “A quality education is extremely expensive, and
I am now able to attain it.”
Ross and Shirley Casella were members of the Titusville community and owners of Keystone Honing Corp. They were born and raised in the vicinity of Dover and New Philadelphia, Ohio. In giving back, Shirley specified the scholarship be available to high school graduates from Titusville Area School District, Dover and New Philadelphia High Schools, as well as St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School in Dover.
The $1.1 million gift in June 2010 to the Crawford Heritage Community Foundation that started the scholarship fund was then the second largest in the foundation’s history. This past April the fund grew to more than $2.4 million with a bequest of the remainder of the Casella’s individual retirement accounts (IRAs).
According to foundation Executive Director Christian Maher, leaving a bequest to a community foundation is becoming an increasingly popular form of philanthropy. “Most people can make their largest and most impactful gift through their estate, since it comes as a time when they no longer need the money,” he said.
In selecting the recipient, emphasis is put on the student’s academic performance as well as involvement in their community, said Rev. Barry Cressman, a member of the selection committee. “We make sure that the recipient of the Casella Scholarship is not only an exceptional student but also an exceptional person. They must be an active volunteer in his or her community,” Cressman said.
Bridget Jenkins, a 2012 Titusville High School graduate, is the second recipient of the Casella Scholarship. She aspires to be an attorney, and so the award has completely changed her outlook on her future four years at Penn State – Behrend College.
“When I sat down and started really looking at the cost of school, it was the first time I ever actually considered changing my career choice,” said Jenkins. “This scholarship has truly been the answer to my prayers.”
The foundation invests its funds so that they grow, sustaining the benefit year after year, forever. “As a permanent endowment, the scholarship will continue to help many deserving students in the years to come,” said Maher.
The significance that this scholarship will have on local students for decades into the future makes Jessica Hilburn especially honored to be its first recipient. “I believe the impact of this scholarship is going to be stunningly huge,” she said. “I know that it will turn many students into world-changing professionals, and I plan to be one of them.”