GRASP Scholarships Provide Opportunities for Education Beyond High School


During the 2018-2019 academic year, a non-profit, college and career access organization, known as GRASP, implemented its programs in high schools across Virginia to students seeking financial aid and scholarships for continuing education after high school.  One of those schools was Highland High.  Art teacher Renee Vandevender is also the GRASP advisor in Highland County, and she speaks about this program and its opportunities.

She says, “GRASP is the Great Aspirations Scholarship Program.  We have advisors in 80 different schools throughout the state of Virginia.  Our job is to help students prepare for post-secondary education.  We help them find scholarships, other forms of financial aid, and we help them file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the FAFSA.”

“There’s just a need for help with financial aid.  A lot of students don’t know where to go, and the guidance counselors, they provide a lot of assistance, but they have a ton of students, so with GRASP, we can focus and find seniors, specifically seniors who, maybe, their parents never went to college, they’re first-time college students, so, that’s where we like to step in, into that niche.  And then along with that aid comes the extra benefit of we’ll provide you some money for college as well, and that can provide, you know, books, laptops.  If you’re going to a two-year school, that might even cover your entire two years.”

Several different types of scholarships and programs are offered through GRASP, and Ms. Vandevender speaks to ones applicable in Highland.  “The first is The Last Dollar Scholarship, and that can go to any high school senior who has met with me,” she says.

The second is known as SOAR Virginia.  Ms. Vandevender says, “It is a early commitment program.  You begin as a freshman, and then you finish as a senior, and you can earn up to $2,000 toward your college expenses.  Students who participate in it have to do community service, take a financial literacy course, they have to meet with me at least four times a year, they have to keep their GPA above a 2.5, and they have to file the FAFSA.”

A third is the GRASP Community College Pathway Scholarship.  She says, “And it’s for students who are either going into the workforce and are getting a trade school education or are going to community college and then transferring to a four-year school.”

This year, graduating Highland High School Senior, Sophie (Sophia) Hevener, was the recipient of all three of these scholarships, adding up to $4,000 for her efforts.

For those interested in these scholarships and programs in the future, Ms. Vandevender has the details.  She says, “The Last Dollar and the Community College Pathways is just for seniors, and then those applications are available on the GRASP website.  You can also get a physical application from me.  For SOAR, I talk to freshman at the beginning of the school year, and if they meet the qualifications, they sign up through me.  We get all of their paperwork figured out, and then they’re in SOAR as long as they want to stay in it, until their seniors.”

“I think it helps students, the whole program in general, students who’d like to go on to a trade school but don’t really feel like financial aid is for them.  I think the impact has been very good.  I’ve enjoyed working with the students.  I feel like they are more confident about financial aid and where to find it.”

The GRASP website is

Story By

Chris Swecker

is the Assistant Station Coordinator and a News Reporter for WVLS. He has roots in Highland County going back several generations, and he grew up in Monterey. Since graduating from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Design, he has pursued his career at a news station and advertising agency in Virginia, on Microsoft’s campus in the state of Washington, and in both states as sole owner and employee of a video production company. He enjoys exploring life with his wife, Jessa Fowler, traveling, hiking, hunting, gardening, and trying new foods, all while discovering more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He feels blessed to be a small part of this talented AMR team to help give back to the community that has provided him with so much.

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