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Educational dreams come true

February 01, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - When Rosabell Roman started raising money 20 years ago for the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Committee, getting enough donations for the $500 scholarship was a challenge.

A $5 dinner at Martinsburg High School covered some of the costs; donations of $5 to $15 from the community covered the rest.

"We didn't make a whole lot of money in the beginning," Roman said.

And it isn't always easy finding a guest speaker for the dinner. In 1985, Roman drove to the Washington County Regional Airport in a snowstorm to pick one up. He wasn't on the plane.

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With just two hours until the fund-raiser, a chaplain came to the rescue.

Yet for 20 years, the scholarship committee has made sure a handful of college-bound students get a financial boost.

And the organization has been well-received: The number of scholarships has increased because community and area businesses have offered more support, the annual fund-raising dinner has become well-attended and big-name speakers - such as King's daughter, Yolanda King - have offered their time.

"It's really getting around more in the public," said Roman, president of the organization since its inception.

About 300 people attended the committee's annual dinner Sunday, at $25 per plate. It's the organization's only fund-raiser.

The Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles - a Memphis, Tenn., pastor, international civil rights leader and witness to King's assassination - spoke at the event.

In the 1970s, the committee began with programs celebrating King's message, but the desire to help children in the community who couldn't afford a college education prompted the first scholarship award.

African-American students didn't have as many chances for scholarships 20 years ago.

"It was extremely difficult," said Jean Martin, who has been active with the committee for 12 years.

"About the only ones they did get then were to their own colleges, the African-American colleges," Martin said.

But these scholarships aren't only for black students. Anyone can apply and receive the awards.

"We're working on Dr. King's dream, because his dream was that every kid should have an education, no matter what their color, because they're not going to make it in this world without it," Roman said.

The first scholarship awarded 20 years ago was for $500. In 1997, nine $500 scholarships were awarded and that amount may be upped to $1,000 next year.

"Some years we get 35 to 40 applications from the Tri-County area and it really bothers us we can't help them all. The more help we get from the community and businesses, the more scholarships we can give," Roman said.

Financial need and a 2.5 grade-point average are the only eligibility requirements. About half of the scholarships go to minority students; the other half are available to anyone, Roman said.

"We've come a long way and I hope we can continue to do better each year," Roman said.

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