The Herald, Sharon,
PA Published July 2, 1997


Winner Foundation funds needs of community

PHOTO Jean Angelo/Herald Winner Foundation coordinator Karen Winner Hale, left, looks over Shelly Rigby's grades. The Hubbard woman, a recipient of a loan from the foundation, recently graduated from Youngstown State University with a degree in social work.

By Jennifer Hall
Herald Staff Writer

The first of the Winner Foundation kids have graduated from college and soon they will begin repaying their foundation loans.

As they do, they will have an indirect role in providing even more Mercer County students with educational funding assistance.

``We as a family realize how important education is and we realize the cost of education increases,'' said Karen Winner Hale, who runs the Sharon-based Winner Foundation. ``We want to help those who want to get their education do so.''

The Winner Foundation was established in 1991. Select graduating high school seniors receive $2,500 a year for college. The aid is renewable until students graduate from college as long as they maintain a 3.0 grade point average.

Three years after their graduation from college or graduate school, aid recipients are asked to begin repaying the interest-free loan. The loan becomes a grant if the recipient has a 4.0 grade point average at graduation.

In 1991, nine students received the money. This year, the foundation awarded 139 loans. Some scholarships are available each year.

``I've had as many as 150 kids apply,'' Mrs. Winner Hale said. ``I interview all of the applicants. These kids are amazing. They are full of so many different ideas and their minds are so fresh.''

It's a cyclical process that should begin paying for itself, providing more opportunities for other students.

``It really becomes an extended family when the students want it to be that way,'' Mrs. Winner Hale said. ``Some bring T-shirts in or want to work for us while they're home in the summer.''

But scholarships aren't all the Winner Foundation provides.

``The main thrust of this foundation is to meet charitable needs in the schools, churches and other agencies,'' Mrs. Winner Hale said.

The Winner Foundation is a part of the Shenango Valley Foundation, an umbrella for nonprofit agencies wishing to meet needs in the area.

Each year Mrs. Winner Hale chairs the Shoes for Kids project that raises money to buy appropriate shoes for school-age children. Last year, it provided more than 2,000 students with school shoes, and the project may expand into other districts. Students in the Shenango Valley are eligible at this point.

At one time Mrs. Winner Hale was surprised at the extent of need in the community. ``But now, instead of me being surprised, we as a group do whatever we can.''

The foundation helps nonprofit agencies that find themselves in a budget bind or matches funds in the Frostbite Food Taste Foot Race, which raises money to pay some heating bills for people.

``If someone needs a wheelchair, ramp or van and there's no time for state aid or whatever, that is where we can step in,'' said Mrs. Winner Hale's father, James E. Winner Jr. ``We focus on people who have needs but slip through the cracks.''

Winner, who is chairman of Sharon-based Winner International, said at times the board is faced with difficult choices on who should receive funding.

The next project that Winner would like to launch includes encouraging high school organizations to recognize needs in their community and attempt to do something to meet them. Winner has promised to match funding they raise to support that community service.

``I want them looking in their own communities,'' he said. ``They will see someone who needs their house painted or food, then they go and do it. They will be reacting to a need as a school.''

The program is being started in the Shenango Valley but Winner would like to see it spread to a wider area.

``We are still trying to meet the charitable needs of the community,'' Mrs. Winner Hale said. ``The vision remains the same _ it's just growing.''

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