Local high school students can now apply for college scholarships of up to $80,000 thanks to a new initiative from the Rhode Island Foundation that honors the state’s founding father.

“Roger Williams was many things – a seeker, a champion of democracy, a naturalist, a reader, a writer, a traveler, and undoubtedly an entrepreneur. Thanks to the vision of Letitia and John Carter, this initiative will connect Rhode Islanders with our state’s founder in an open, accessible manner,” said Neil Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO.

The Roger Williams Initiative is the brainchild of philanthropists Letitia and John Carter. Open to high school seniors from Rhode Island, recipients will be awarded up to $80,000 over four years based on financial need and academic good standing. Up to three scholarships a year will be awarded.

“We hope that after learning more about Roger Williams, students will understand what his values were, and how they remain significant, important, current and not as a study in history. Roger Williams should be seen as a set of living ideals and not only an historical figure. The goal is for students to gain an understanding of Roger Williams and, in that sense, see him as a mentor and personal guide,” said John Carter.

Students can begin applying for the scholarships immediately. The deadline is Feb. 16. More details are posted at findingrogerwilliams.com.

The website also includes a free online education hub offering activities and discussion starters on Roger Williams and his teachings for local elementary, middle and high school educators to use in their classrooms. Also available online is a comprehensive collection of verifiable information about Roger Williams, his life, legacy and character.

“We wanted to establish a sense of place and awareness for all Rhode Islanders by providing access to resources and opportunities inspired by our state’s founder and his teachings,” said Jessica David, the Foundation’s senior vice president for strategy and community investment, who led the project.

“This initiative is meant to encourage review and reflection. Roger Williams was a complex man, he was forward-thinking and yet very much a man of his time. We are committed to presenting a complete, verifiable and accurate portrayal of who he was and what he accomplished – without bias,” she said.

A host of speakers joined the Foundation to unveil the new initiative at the Roger Williams National Memorial, which is the site of a freshwater spring that was the center of the settlement of Providence Plantations founded by Williams in 1636.

“I’m proud to serve as the Governor of a state founded on Roger Williams’s principles of religious freedom and tolerance. Today, Rhode Island’s commitment to inclusion and opportunity for all remains one of our greatest strengths,” said Gov. Gina Raimondo. “As Governor, I have worked to establish programs to help high school students take college courses for free, and to help bridge the gap between financial aid packages and the actual cost of college. The Roger Williams Initiative and Scholarships Program will open doors of opportunity for even more of our students.”

“Thinking about the establishment of this state we would be remiss not to acknowledge the impact of the Narragansett people on the ability of Roger Williams to, first, survive and, then, thrive in our homelands. I am pleased to partner on this initiative and to share the interwoven history of the creation of this state,” said Lorén Spears, executive director of the Tomaquag Museum.

“Few note the tremendous contributions Roger Williams made to our basic ideals about freedom. These freedoms we take for granted today, began as an experiment, with Roger Williams at the helm, right here in Rhode Island. These scholarships are a fantastic opportunity for the next generation to understand and continue Williams’s experiment,” said Roger Williams National Memorial Park Ranger John McNiff.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. In 2015, the Foundation awarded $41.5 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential. For more information, visit www.rifoundation.org.

Source: Rhode Island Foundation

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Ryan M. Belmore

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