FALL RIVER — Scholarship America, the nation’s largest nonprofit scholarship and education support organization, grew from the vision of the late Dr. Irving Fradkin, who would have been 100 years old this month. The “optometrist with a vision” had a simple idea for making the dream of college a reality: small donations raised throughout communities to support college-bound students.
A century after his birth, Fradkin’s vision still rings true, having raised over $4.5 billion and supported more than 2.8 million students.
More:Philanthropist Dr. Irving Fradkin, founder of Dollars for Scholars, dies at 95
Scholarship America is dedicated to ensuring that this mission is alive and well today, and the organization is committed to serving students well into the future.
“Dr. Fradkin’s belief that everyone has the opportunity to better their lives and the lives of others through education is just as relevant today,” said Robert C. Ballard, president and CEO of Scholarship America, in a press release. “We continue our mission and his vision to make college affordable for students through scholarships and advocacy. We are focused on student success in college — and they need our support more than ever during the current economic climate and pandemic. Since Dr. Fradkin started our organization, we have supported the values of diversity, equity and inclusion. Today we are actively working to create more equity in higher education and to ensure our programs help students overcome systemic inequalities.”
Fradkin was born on March 28, 1921, in the Boston suburb of Chelsea. The second youngest child of Russian immigrants, he enrolled in the Massachusetts College of Optometry. Annual tuition was $300 then — two month’s pay for his bakery-owning father — who paid for his son’s education.
After years of hearing from patients who dreamed of college, but couldn’t afford it, Fradkin gathered his neighbors to initiate community scholarship fundraising. In May 1958, Fradkin’s vision became a reality, and the first Dollars for Scholars scholarships of $500 each were awarded to graduating Fall River seniors from local public and private schools.
Today, Scholarship America’s Dollars for Scholars is the nation’s most extensive grassroots scholarship program with chapters in 475 local communities, operated by 12,500 volunteers. The program’s first chapter is still hard at work in Fall River, nicknamed “Scholarship City” because of its role in America’s scholarship history.
Doug Mello, a current Scholarship America board trustee, and Barbara Kuzdzol a board trustee emeritus, originally from Fall River, are two of Scholarship America’s earliest Dollars for Scholars recipients. They fondly recall memories of Fradkin.
“Without a doubt, Dr. Fradkin’s scholarship gave me the confidence that I needed to improve my standing in the tough town that Fall River was in those days,” recalled Mello. “He recognized the value of education and provided that opportunity to me with one of his early scholarships.”
“Dr. Fradkin wanted the younger generation to succeed and that was the driving force behind his vision for Scholarship America,” added Kuzdzol. “Even when we visited him during his final days to say goodbye, his thoughts were on discussing his ideas for moving the organization forward. He had incredible drive and commitment.”
Fradkin witnessed the extraordinary growth of his vision before passing away in 2016 at the age of 95.
In 1976, a grant from the Bush Foundation established a regional office for Scholarship America in St. Peter, Minn., setting the stage for further growth and sustained support for student scholarships. In 1998, Scholarship America declared November National Scholarship Month, launching an annual national campaign to raise awareness of the vital role scholarships play in reducing student debt and expanding access to higher education.
Since its humble East Coast beginnings, Fradkin’s dream has grown dramatically. Today, Scholarship America:
- Has offices in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis and St. Peter, Minn., with 227 employees.
- Distributes more than $273 million in scholarships annually to more than 100,000 students through Dollars for Scholars, corporate scholarship partners and other programs.
- Administers more than 14,000 scholarship programs each year.
- Created the Dream Award, a renewable scholarship program, in 2014. As of 2021, it has awarded over $2.4 million to 130 students, with scholarships ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 based on financial need.
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