By Brandon Walker EBS LOCAL EDITOR
BIG SKY – Two weeks ago, Lone Peak High School transitioned to an online format following a directive from Gov. Steve Bullock to close public schools in response to COVID-19. Classrooms remain vacant while teachers and students alike adapt to working from home. Yet even with all of these changes, the annual Friends of Big Sky Education Community Scholarship Program commenced as planned—albeit with adjustments of its own.
FOBSE originally began in 2004. “The initial endeavor was to get a high school here,” said FOBSE Vice President and Secretary, Anne Marie Mistretta. The organization dispersed its first $30,000 amongst seniors in the graduating class of 2015.
Since then FOBSE has traditionally hosted an awards ceremony in early April at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, recognizing and presenting students with their scholarships in a community setting.
Similar to other community events, for the first time in the program’s history due to the COVID-19 pandemic, FOBSE notified students, their families and even the sponsors of their scholarship selections remotely, instead of hosting the usual awards ceremony.
“I think the coolest thing about it was when we were doing the assemblies, the parents were kind of out of it. They weren’t part of the whole thing…they were there, but they really weren’t part of it,” said FOBSE board member Jerry Mistretta. “Being able to telephone them and talk to them, not only about the scholarship, but how pleased we were to be able to give those particular scholarships to their son or daughter, because of the uniqueness of their son or daughter, was just a real high.”
This year, FOBSE compiled a grand total of $94,000 in scholarship funds—split into 40 total need and merit scholarships—for individuals who applied for the monetary aid in the 2020 LPHS senior class. Of the 25 students in this year’s graduating class, 17 applied for and received scholarship money from FOBSE.
“Some of [the parents] were reduced to tears. They were so appreciative of this community. It was just unbelievable,” Jerry said. “We never expected that—we expected to call them and make a little announcement to them, have a little bit of small talk, and go on to the next one—but that didn’t happen very often.”
Students receiving awards—scholarship amounts received ranged from a total of $3,000 up to $10,000—were contacted through email on March 25 and their families were informed the following day, mainly by phone, leading to a wide array of appreciative and attentive conversations, according to the Mistretta’s.
“I was with one of my girlfriend’s when she got the call on her daughter and just to see her excitement and Gus’ when I got home and talked to him…that was pretty cool too,” said Beth Hoffman, the parent of LPHS senior Gus Hoffman, who received three scholarships from FOBSE.
Hoffman, who is also a presenter for Big Sky Build at the traditional scholarship ceremonies, did mention that the community atmosphere and excitement was missed.
The scholarship dollars, raised through the efforts of the Mistretta’s, Marsha McKillop and Whitney Littman, were donated by 150 community members, over 70 area businesses and more than 10 foundations and organizations throughout Big Sky. The scholarships provide opportunities for many different fields of study, including environmental science, the arts, and trades among others.
“It was cool to hear [Jerry] explain what [Gus] got and what they all meant and the process…and his congratulations were sincere, and Anne Marie was congratulating in the background. It was very nice,” Hoffman said reflecting on the phone call that informed her of her son’s scholarship awards.
At a time when finances are in question for many families throughout the nation, the award money, although not covering the full cost of any one student’s tuition, brought comfort to those who will have a son or daughter attending school in the fall. “There were so many [families] and sponsors that were expressing a worry about—were kids going to be able to go to school,” Anne Marie said.
“It is a little bit of a relief knowing that we have some funds that we can use towards school or also a computer for him to go to college,” said Hoffman. “…with him having an older sister in college, it just makes it a lot easier.”
Anne Marie recalled one conversation she had with a parent whose child was considering three different colleges and universities, but the favorite of the group also carried the heftiest price tag. She said that parent told her the scholarships would be helpful in bridging the gap.
The phone call announcements the Mistrettas made became an all-day affair as the couple fielded questions and heard the gratitude of family members of the students receiving awards. “We were exhausted by the end of the day,” Anne Marie said. “But it was a good exhaustion. It was a good feeling.”
“It’s amazing and so overwhelming and they are definitely changing kids’ lives…in a big way. It’s awesome,” Hoffman said.