"I know with books alone, some semesters you can spend hundreds of dollars, so that's definitely going to take up most of the scholarship," Landers said, referring to the scholarship he was recognized Friday for receiving, the Crescent Bank of Cartersville scholarship.
Landers, who plans to pursue international business, with a minor in finance, was one of 162 locals honored Friday night at The Grand Theatre during the Etowah Scholarship Foundation's annual Scholarship Awards Ceremony. During the event, recipients -- recent graduates, current college students and non-traditional students pursuing higher education -- were handed by their scholarship donors or representatives a certificate recognizing their award; they will receive scholarship funds later this summer.
Donations from dozens of individuals, organizations and businesses totaled $112,000 that the Cartersville-based nonprofit will award this year; in its 28 years of existence, over $4 million has been given to more than 4,000 local students.
"If you look at your handouts, you'll see we don't have names like Gates, Vanderbilt or Carnegie. These folks are our neighbors," foundation Chairman Mike Murphy told those in attendance. "They have wants and needs just like other folks, and they decided to give money, give resources from their own households to help other people, and they expect nothing in return. We should thank them for their generosity."
The foundation last year awarded $150,000 to 190 students. Paige Miller, the foundation's executive director, said the organization hopes to reverse the current trend and support more students with funds next year. She added that of this year's 400-plus applicants, more than 50 percent were unable to receive scholarship assistance.
"It's a down year in our economy, so that kind of relates to it," Miller said earlier Friday. "At the same time, it's a building year, so we were looking at doing what was given us at the beginning of the year, and we plan to start over basically tomorrow morning and really go after it and try to double that number next year."
Miller said that while Friday's event focused on honoring scholarship recipients instead of advertising the need for donations, the ceremony can show those in attendance that almost anyone has the capability to be a help to local students. She added that the event also shows donors exactly who they are helping.
"I think people realize that you don't have to be a millionaire to be able to give a scholarship -- you can just give a $500 scholarship, give a $1,000 scholarship, you can support a student for four years -- there are so many options," she said. "I think that's what we're able to convey tonight, that anyone can give a scholarship, and that's what we need people to see.
"If you are a donor, you want to know what your money is going towards, and this is an opportunity to do that," she added. "If you don't ever meet the student, it's just like writing a blank check, and there's no kind of personal connection or personal tie of seeing where your money goes, and that's less fulfilling for them. So this is an opportunity for them to meet the student, find out what they're wanting to do with their education, why they chose the school they did, and what they plan to do with their life -- it's just an opportunity to build a relationship."
For students, meeting those who are helping them achieve a higher education may help encourage them to work hard, added Miller, herself a past foundation scholarship recipient.
"From my past experience, there's something about seeing someone that believes in the student, that believes in me, that is giving me a scholarship that I can go to school," she said. "It just kind of gives you that sense of purpose and empowerment where not only are you going to school for yourself or your family, but someone is believing in you and allowing you to follow your dreams, so you just have that connection to the community, and I think in a small town like Cartersville, that's the goal -- to build connections and relationships."
For recipients like Landers, support from the community may encourage today's college students to return to Bartow to continue those relationships and build new ones.
"If the community supports us, we're coming back for sure," Landers said. "If we don't 'feel the love,' we don't necessarily want to come back to raise our families here."
Veronica Mason, who graduated from Cass High School last month, shared a similar sentiment, saying that those who support her and other students are investing in Bartow County itself.
"We are their future -- we will be here again in a few years after we come back in school," said Mason, who intends to attend UGA to major in political science and minor in history. "Hopefully we'll come back here and take their places and make Bartow County even better than it is.
"It's really wonderful that people do donate, because it really helps out a lot of students, not just recently graduated people but people already in college."
ESF officials during the ceremony said they hoped the night's recipients would show the same generosity after they complete their education.
"You have the opportunity to create a better life for yourself, and in doing so, you'll gain the knowledge, ability and resources to help others," Murphy said. "So understand this scholarship tonight that you receive is not a gift -- it's a loan.
"You won't be held accountable -- you're on your honor -- but whether you decide to return to Bartow County or move to a larger city or you go to another small community, understand that it is your obligation to give back and make that local community a better place."