Twenty young people from ages 18 to 27 received scholarships totaling $50,000 during a ceremony at Glendale’s Camp Max Straus earlier this week — an event that celebrated how the recipients overcame adversity in their lives.
The Arnold S. Nelson Scholarship Award, given to the recipients last Sunday, will pay for tuition at four-year schools, community colleges, graduate programs or yeshivas — Jewish institutions where students study religious texts.
The young people are graduates of Camp Max Straus’ Witherbee Wilderness backpacking program, and were previously involved in the camp as at-risk teens who trekked in the High Sierras during a five-day stretch, and learned team-building and group problem-solving skills.
The camp is spread across 112 acres in the Verdugo Hills and serves about 1,800 at-risk youth each year, regardless of a young person’s religion, ethnicity or ability to pay.
When 13- to 17-year-old teens graduate from the backpacking program, they are invited to apply for the scholarships, and in turn, required to submit an essay, participate in face-to-face interviews and show evidence of their financial need.
Arnold S. Nelson sits on the board of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, which established Camp Max Straus in 1938. About 15 years ago, Nelson designed the scholarship program, and he conducts the one-on-one interviews with the young people each year.
“For some of these campers, we are enabling them to become the first in their family to attend college, which speaks to the transformative nature of this initiative,” he said in a statement.
Randy Schwab, chief executive officer of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters Los Angeles, said the students involved in the program were often born to teenage parents, grew up in extreme poverty or lived in rough neighborhoods.
“What they all have in common… is a desire to be the architect of their own futures,” he said.