Boosting Students’ Dreams:

The Columbia (SC) Chapter of the Links, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization consisting of women of color who contribute to their communities through a variety of service projects and initiatives with a focus on the arts, health and wellness, and youth engagement. The group’s members work with communities to understand their needs and priorities and provide financial and volunteer resources to address them – an inclusive versus a directive approach.

One of chapter’s most important projects is their Links Scholars program, a scholarship program that awards financial support to deserving students of color. The first year the program was launched, two students received scholarships.  Last year, ten students received awards.

Since the creation of the Links Scholars program in the early 1990’s, Dr. Benetta Bell, Vice President of the Link’s Inc. Columbia chapter, has seen the nonprofit’s scholarship program double.

“If I had to estimate a growth percentage for our scholarship I would say we’ve experienced 100 percent growth,” Dr. Bell says. “Working with Central Carolina Community Foundation, we have been able to reach further into the community with our fundraising efforts and connect with corporations who know of the Community Foundation.  Our corporate donors are comfortable giving to our scholarship knowing that the funds will be well managed.”

Every year, the organization combs through applicants, looking for motivated students who might slip under the radar for other scholarships.

“Our goal with the scholarship was not necessarily to find the top person in a class,” Dr. Bell says. “It was to get the B-plus student, the A-minus student, the student who is not in the top five but is going to college and will be very successful. We wanted to expand this scholarship to reach more of these students and the Community Foundation magnified our impact to the point where we can do that.”

Because of their successful fundraising efforts, the Links members now provide financial support for tuition and books and also provide professional attire for college and business interviews.  This year, the Links Scholars program helped ten students realize their dream of attending college.  Through the support of the Link’s members, this number will continue to grow and more dreams will be fulfilled.

The Community Foundation’s main impact on the scholarship has been in the business arena. The Columbia (SC) retains control over scholarship applications, recipient selection and designation of funds, but the Community Foundation manages all the finances, compliance, and processing responsibilities, allowing the Columbia Chapter’s leadership to focus on what really matters: helping students in need.

“The Community Foundation assisted with the paperwork needed to administer scholarships as well as helped us stay up to date with the laws and regulations that we needed to comply with to distribute scholarships,” Bell says. “Things change every year and not all of our members can keep up with those changes or even know what the changes are. The Community Foundation has given us a lot of flexibility with how the funds grow, where the funds go, and the best way to utilize them, helping us to save in a wise way.”

Thanks to the Columbia (S) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated’s willingness to serve through Links Scholars, assisted by the management of the Community Foundation, the scholarship is showing a promising trend of growth that can only continue from here.

“It’s been fabulous growth over the years and the Community Foundation has allowed more students to see our scholarship and know it’s there for them,” Dr. Bell says. “So it’s added value for us, it’s an added value for the students because they get the opportunities that they would like to have. We hope to offer even more of these opportunities in the future.”