Kiwanis Turnaround Scholarship Helping Students for 50 Years
Story by Carolyn Schuk

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Kiwanis Turnaround Scholarship Helping Students for 50 Years

Michael Hobson is the owner of Rookie's Sports Lodge in San José and a picture of all-American success.

But he wasn't always.

When Hobson was in the eighth grade he was expelled from school for having marijuana in his locker. "This threw out the whole balance of my life," he told guests at this year's Kiwanis Turnaround Scholarship fundraiser on March 29. Eventually he was able to return to high school. But the disruption in his life caused by a single act of bad judgment had lasting impact.

Through a Kiwanis Turnaround scholarship, Hobson was able to get a degree and start working in the restaurant business, where he worked his way up from a dishwasher to the owner of two restaurants.

"Somebody out there knew about my change," he said. "Somebody out there cared about my change. That somebody was the Kiwanis Club. Now they've given me the opportunity to shine that light back on them.

Hobson's story isn't a unique one. Over the years the Turnaround scholarship has given over $2 million to about 7,000 young people.

This year 15 Kiwanis Clubs from around the South Bay came together to celebrate the scholarship's 50th anniversary.

Held at Campbell's Villa Ragusa on April 4, the event attracted over 500 guests to a wine tasting sponsored by local wineries, dinner, a silent auction and a drawing for $1,000 in cash. Speakers included former scholarship recipient Hobson, San José Vice Mayor Magdalena Corrasco and Mercury News columnist Sal Pizarro.

The program provides scholarships for students who don't usually get them–those without exceptional academic records or impressive resumes or extracurricular activities.

These are students who have had to confront difficulties that include teenage pregnancy, learning disabilities, dysfunctional families, poverty, addiction, or any one of a host of well-documented problems that can throw students off-course. Despite the obstacles, scholarship recipients have turned their lives around and are headed for college or vocational school.

The Kiwanis program not only enables students to attend college or specialized career education, it also helps them succeed when they get there by providing counseling and college orientation classes. Students can continue to get scholarships as long as they maintain 10 to 12 credits.

Last year the program gave out $220,000 in scholarships, said Santa Clara resident and Kiwanis member Rick Mauck, who also serves on the event committee every year. About 25 percent of the scholarships are given to returning students, he said.

Although Mercury columnist Pizarro wasn't a Turnaround scholarship recipient, he knows first-hand the obstacles these students face. He grew up, he said, in East San José and he was the first person in his family ever to go to college.

Noting the significance of the program's 50th year, Pizarro said, "It was a real honor to be asked to speak at such an important milestone for the program. In my job I see a lot of young people and I know the difference scholarships like these can make."

Referring to the Kiwanis motto 'Serving the Children of the World,' he said, "When they adopted that motto they must have been thinking about what the people in this room are doing tonight.

"When you see the looks on the faces of the scholarship recipients," said Pizarro. "That's about pride in achieving something and knowing that someone knows the difficult lives they have had and might still have ahead of them."

The evening's grand prize drawing–donated by the Shortino Foundation, which also made a $75,000 matching grant to the program–went to retired Santa Clara Unified teacher Miquileen Correa, who taught at Wilson High School and still substitutes there. Asked what she planned to do with the cash, she replied that she would likely be donating some of it back to the Turnaround program.

School districts participating in the program will have luncheons in May to honor scholarship recipients. Santa Clara Unified and Campbell Union High School districts will honor their Turnaround scholarship winners on May 18, at 12:30 p.m. at The Flames restaurant in San Jose. If you're interested in attending, please RSVP with Dave Burnham at (408) 268-4520 or email davemer@comcast.com.

At any community event in Santa Clara you're pretty sure to find members of the Santa Clara Kiwanis Club hard at work behind the scenes. Among its many activities, the 65-year-old club sponsors Santa Clara's annual Easter Egg Hunt and Trout Derby.

Santa Clara Kiwanis meets every Tuesday for lunch at Mariani's Restaurant, 2500 El Camino Real at 12:15 p.m. Visitors are always welcome. For information, visit sckiwanis.biz.nf or call 408-247-7675. For information about Kiwanis International, visit www.kiwanis.org.