Dollars For Scholars: Smart Money Well-Spent

I like the Dollars for Scholars program because it's all about regular people helping regular kids reach higher than they might otherwise.

It started as a program for rural areas, with the idea that a small community could work together to send some of its kids to college, kids who weren't going to get academic or athletic scholarships, but who would do well given a chance.

In Washington, the program migrated into urban areas.

Last year, I wrote about the chapter at Marshall Alternative High School.

Let me tell you now about the African-American Dollars for Scholars chapter.

Clayton Pitre is the president and prime mover, the guy who got it going five years ago.

One of his three grown sons heard that Ken Jacobsen, state senator from the 46th District, had gotten the Legislature to put up some matching money to encourage residents to start Dollars for Scholars chapters and that Jacobsen was especially interested in getting African Americans to participate.

It sounded like just the task for the elder Pitre, who is retired. Pitre says, "I've been at Garfield and Roosevelt and seen kids with 3.8 grade-point averages walk away with all the scholarships and the ones with 3.0 feel no need to try.

"Our mission is to encourage them to go beyond high school and come back to the community as productive citizens."

Pitre grew up in Opelousas, La., and thought he might earn a basketball scholarship. But the Marine Corps took him out of high

school to do a little work in the South Pacific.

After the war, in 1946, he was working in a Seattle shipyard and met Garfield kids who told him about a new high school, Broadway Edison, for veterans who hadn't gotten their diplomas. They urged him to go sign up, then use the GI Bill to get to college.

He earned an accounting degree from Seattle University.

Pitre worked for the post office, sold real estate and worked in the late '60s and early '70s in a Central Area Motivation Project program to rehabilitate houses and sell them to low- and moderate-income families.

He put in 11 years with the Veterans Administration before retiring to work at real estate on his own, at a slower pace.

Pitre says that being from Louisiana, he loves jazz, so his first fund-raiser was a jazz concert. He's continued putting on a concert each year. Still, raising money hasn't been easy, and the scholarships his group offers have never been large.

The group doesn't try to pay any one student's way, but to give money to as many students as possible. "The money to the child is really a motivating factor, the fact that he was recognized and encouraged to achieve" is what is most important, Pitre says.

He remembers one of the first recipients: "Karl Smith once said he went to school just because all the other kids were going to school, until one teacher said, `You have potential. You handle your math very well.' That made him pay attention."

Smith worked harder and improved his school performance, but didn't think his family could afford to send him to college.

Smith was one of the first group of 12 scholarship recipients.

Pitre says his wife saw the young man not long ago, tutoring younger students at Asa Mercer Middle School. He told her he was in his junior year at the University of Washington, studying engineering and planning to become a teacher.

Those little encouragements mean a lot, and they add up.

Richard Millerick, area director of the Pacific Northwest Region, says Washington chapters have raised $5,186,155 since 1987 and given scholarships to 3,755 students.

The programs continue to grow. Jacobsen was in New Orleans for a board meeting recently and spoke with James Lyons, the president of Jackson State University. "I asked if they'd like to raise the profile of Jackson State in this area." Lyons surprised him by offering a full four-year scholarship.

The scholarship, in Pitre's honor, will be awarded at a ceremony April 18 at the Garfield Community Center.

Jerry Large's column appears Sundays and Thursdays in the Scene section of The Seattle Times. You can reach him c/o The Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. Phone: 206-464-3346. Fax: 206-464-2261. E-mail: