Karen Hensley and Ann Thompson are GRO co-founders. photo provided
Karen Hensley and Ann Thompson are GRO co-founders. photo provided

For the past 10 years, Sisters Graduate Resource Organization (Sisters GRO) has been helping Sisters graduates realize their post-high-school plans and dreams.

Sisters GRO was founded as a 501(c)(3) organization in 2008 to offer assistance and administrative support in the scholarship process to Sisters High School graduates. There has been a long history of support for higher education in the Sisters community, but prior to 2008, no central entity to facilitate coordination of the student scholarship application and donor selection, award and disbursement process existed.

Over the last 10 years, GRO has established the Endowment for Dreams fund with the Oregon Community Foundation; developed a fair, streamlined scholarship application process meeting IRS requirements; and worked with donors to establish lasting relationships to help them support our graduates in pursuing whatever path they choose post-high-school: two-and four-year college scholarships, career technical education, "real-life" job internships, military and other areas of endeavor.

Sisters GRO is the only nonprofit in the community focused solely on the development of financial support for Sisters High School graduates in these areas.

Currently Sisters GRO works with 51 donors to offer 87 local individual scholarships available to SHS graduates. Beginning in 2008-09, it awarded $64,150 to 27 student recipients; in 2017, Sisters GRO awarded nearly $170,000 to 54 recipients. Since its inception, with the assistance of the people of Sisters, it has awarded scholarship funds of $824,500 to 285 graduating students.

"In many respects, 10 years has gone by in the blink of an eye; in other ways, it's been a long road to where we are now," said Ann Thompson, Sisters GRO co-founder. "But every year has been rewarding, watching GRO grow, seeing the generosity of our community come together to help our students succeed in so many ways. When we began the work of Sisters GRO years ago, I don't think our core group ever envisioned this degree of success, although we had high hopes.

"Sisters GRO and (the mentorship program) ASPIRE have combined to make very memorable moments for me: students who had no hope for education beyond high school, and yet went on to college, the first in their families to do so, with the help of mentoring and scholarships. GRO has big plans for the future, and I hope to be around for the next stage!"

ASPIRE is an Oregon State resource that matches adult volunteer mentors with high school students to develop a plan to meet their goals beyond high school. Sisters GRO works closely with ASPIRE in developing ways to better serve graduates in pursuing their goals. In 2017, 40 ASPIRE mentors assisted approximately 175 junior and senior students.

Joe Hosang, SHS principal, who has served on the Sisters GRO Board since 2011, points out that "in addition to financial support by scholarship donors, GRO has been a vital partner with the Sisters School District to support and breathe life into the ASPIRE program when it was struggling. Because of Sisters GRO's passion and commitment to the ASPIRE program, it's flourishing."

In 2013, Sisters GRO began collaborating with The Roundhouse Foundation to furnish funds for "Enrichment Experiences." Sisters GRO manages the selection, award and disbursement process. Making these experiences possible to local youth helps them in discovering their interests and passions, which is a basis for envisioning their future paths. The program began with grants for Sisters High School students and has grown, through the generosity of The Roundhouse Foundation, to include Sisters middle and elementary schools.

Last year The Ford Family Foundation supported Sisters GRO with a grant for professional consulting. This helped the all-volunteer board of directors facilitate a transition of leadership, along with added administration work brought on by the increased number of scholarships.

For information about supporting Sisters GRO by establishing a scholarship, serving on its board of directors, or volunteering as an ASPIRE mentor, contact them at info@SistersGRO.org.