Many institutions, especially the government, schools and some corporations, are still being squeezed by the sluggish economy.
Many Americans remain unemployed or underpaid, leaving many churches to face declining tithes and offerings.
Some congregations, however, are still able to help educate the workforce of the future by funding scholarships. Those gifts are very welcome in an economic climate where government grants don't always cover rising tuition costs.
Shiloh Baptist Church in Indianapolis recently held its Strut Your Hat Awards Banquet. An award of $2,000 was given to Robert N. Hawthorne, a graduate of Crispus Attucks Medical High School with a 4.28 grade point average who plans to attend Harvard University. Cortney E. Sanders, a Pike High School graduate and current Ball State University student, was given a $1,000 scholarship.
"We are thankful to be able to raise the funds needed to make a difference in the lives of students in our community," said Maxine D. McKoy, coordinator of Shiloh's Dollars for Scholars program, which distributes the scholarships.
Days after Shiloh held its event, Oasis of Hope Baptist Church hosted its annual Dollars for Scholars awards celebration. Ten scholarships were given out to high school and college students to help further their education.
"This year we had more students apply for scholarships than ever before, so we were blessed to be able to meet the increased need," said Rev. Frank Alexander, pastor of Oasis of Hope.
Oasis of Hope has given away $40,000 in scholarships over the last five years, and Shiloh has offered over $18,000 in a similar timeframe. Amazingly, both churches report that the unpredictable economy has not had a serious impact on their ability to assist students in the predominantly low-income areas they serve on the city's Eastside.
Alexander said Oasis of Hope has not had to drop the amount it provides in scholarships, and was able to give the same amount it awarded students last year.
At Shiloh, successful fundraising efforts throughout the year have kept funds for scholarships available.
"I don't think the economy is hampering tithes and offerings," McKoy said. "People will continue to give if they already have a habit of doing it. If they don't usually give, then they probably won't do it. That's just the way it is."
How do they do it?
A common denominator of success for both Shiloh and Oasis of Hope is the fact that they are two of only five churches in Indianapolis that serve as chapters for Dollars for Scholars, a program that is part of Scholarship America, the nation's largest non-profit scholarship organization.
"Our faith based chapters have provided more opportunities for students to benefit from scholarships, and they add another dimension as far as the assistance we can be to some of the students at highs schools we have not been able to get into," said Don Setterlof, executive director of Indiana Dollars for Scholars.
To become a Dollar for Scholars chapter, a church can contact the Indiana office and request an organization kit, provide a meeting location and form a committee of area individuals to help launch the chapter.
"We will work side by side with them to provide any guidance needed to start a chapter, and review fundraising opportunities," Setterlof said.
Many churches, both those with and without Dollars for Scholars assistance, have created their own ways to generate revenue for scholarships.
"We have our own fundraisers throughout the year," Alexander said. "Right now we are raffling a handmade quilt at only $10 per person. We're hoping to sell between 500 and a thousand tickets."
At Shiloh, McKoy says Dollars for Scholars offers great guidelines and early assistance, but chapters must create successful fundraisers that will raise money.
For Shiloh, the best example is the Strut Your Hat Awards, where guests pay $25, enjoy a dinner and participate in (or watch) a parade of designer hats where the person with the most beautiful hat receives a gift card.
Other fundraising efforts have included a special Scholarship Cruise to the Bahamas last year. Another cruise is set for the Carribbean in October.
"We don't actually ask the church for any money," said McKoy. "People in the congregation see what I'm doing, and will come up to me and say they want to contribute to the scholarship program."
In addition having a scholarship program every year, Oasis of Hope presents advice throughout the year to help students be proactive in search for scholarships. The church has an initiative called Scholarshop for students, and Parentshop for parents.
"We want to start with students as early as elementary school so that they can be ready when they get into high school," Alexander said. "A lot of parents and students wait until they're juniors and seniors to look for scholarships. Well, that is too late to get scholarships. You have to start working on your grades early, and that's what we try to teach."
For more information about becoming a Dollars for Scholars Chapter, call 1-866-877-1172 or visit indollarsforscholars.org. For more information about Oasis of Hope Baptist Church and Shiloh Baptist Church call (317) 925-6970 or (317) 545-8253.