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By: Anne Cass

“I am not afraid to speak out for what I value.”  Amara Ifeji

 “No matter how many times I’ve been knocked down, it’s my choice to get up.” Sara Low

“I strive to be an uplifter in everything I do.”  Richard Joyce

Who wouldn’t want to celebrate young people like these?  Last year, Mainely Character Scholarships were awarded to five Maine high school graduates of exemplary character.

Our scholarships are unique.  We do not consider traditional measures of student achievement- grades, success in sports or excellence in the arts, or even financial need – just character: demonstrated concern, responsibility, courage, and integrity.

At Mainely Character, we know that character counts.  Young people with strong character are more likely to thrive as adults.  Our recipients achieve more than personal success; strong character strengthens communities.  When we recognize students for character, we send a message about what is valued by our communities. Our winners become role models, inspiring others to live lives of character.

We’ve learned that lives of character take many forms. Some students are passionate agents of change.  They founded organizations to address a range of societal issues:  supporting programs to address food insecurity, countering the perils of depression and suicide, addressing substance abuse, and providing support for students with disabilities. Many of these organizations are ongoing; they continue to serve our communities.

Others are examples of resilience. They have survived traumas such as abandonment, shootings, drug deals gone awry, parental substance abuse, and harassment. Each has gone on to give back, often to help others address the challenge that they faced.

Still other recipients are future community leaders.  They are focused on their neighbors and make outsized contributions to local organizations.

Mainely Character is a 501c3 in southern Maine. A dedicated group of a dozen board volunteers does the work (and treasures the joy) required to raise money, find applicants, review and score applications, select winners, and present scholarships to seniors in high school.  We keep our operating costs to $300 a year; all funds we raise go directly to students.

The number of annual scholarships varies. Beginning with one scholarship for $5,000 in 2001, five scholarships of varying amounts were awarded in 2020; we will present ten in 2021. To date,  we have awarded $179,000 in scholarships to 54 Maine High School seniors from Presque Isle to Berwick.

Mainely Character was a passion project for its founder, Arnie Bushner, a Portland, Maine businessman. As he investigated scholarships for his daughter, who had experienced a character-based education at the Hyde School in Bath, Maine, he noticed the emphasis on academics, sport and the arts. No scholarships focused on a student’s character. To remedy this and to send a message about the importance of character, he and a group of friends formed Mainely Character in 2001.

Some of us joined the board of directors with an interest in expanding access to college. Others joined with an interest in recognizing character. Some of us enjoy interacting with teens and their families. All of us became captivated by the amazing stories of those who receive scholarships. These young men and women inspire us, making us aware of what is possible.

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