Local scholarship gives hope to local high school students

By Staff
Kim West, Franklin County Times
Local high schools are familiar stomping grounds for Judge John Jolly.
That's because Jolly is the president and founder of There's A Way, Inc., a non-profit corporation established seven years ago to encourage Franklin County seniors and GED candidates in the area's five high schools to pursue higher education or job training in preparation for a career and to recognize outstanding teachers at the 10 schools in the city and county school systems.
Every year Jolly spends several weeks during the school year interviewing seniors and begins these interviews in September and ends by mid-January. Scholarship applications are sent out in late January with a February 28 deadline and the awards are announced by May 1.
"Each counselor is given a date I will be there, and the counselor will prepare an advance schedule," Jolly said. "All seniors have the option to schedule an interview. If needed, I will re-schedule the interview."
Each scholarship is worth $1,000 and awarded in two installments of $500, and the money can be spent for educational expenses at the student's discretion. Scholarships are awarded based on 50 percent merit and 50 percent need. This year 60 scholarships were handed out at the annual There's A Way banquet hosted by Belgreen High School on April 28.
"We look at the number of seniors and the ratio of seniors at the school to the ones in the system to determine the number of scholarships we award to each school's seniors," Jolly said. "Some schools just have more seniors, but every senior receives a scholarship application. This year Russellville had 45 percent of the seniors, but Vina had the highest percentage of winners with 10 awards because 100 percent of their 17 seniors applied for the scholarship."
There's A Way has four directors – John Jolly, Jeanette Jolly, Becky Hester and David Scruggs – and each spend up to two weeks in March and April reviewing the scholarship packets, which include the applications and students' resumes. Each director votes for the appropriate number of winners, and the directors hold a meeting to finalize the list of winners. Judge Jolly then presents the first scholarship check to each winner at the reception.
To date, There's A Way has awarded 334 scholarships and 88 teaching awards. The teaching awards program began in 2001, and the scholarship program started in 2002.
"I enjoy working with the administrators, and I have a great relationship with them," Jolly said. "I've also met some really outstanding students and not just the ones who receive scholarships. My reward is seeing students graduate and accomplish something, whether they go to college, trade school or bible college.
"The sad part is saying no, because we can't approve all of them for scholarships. That's my only regret – not having the funds to give more scholarships."
There's A Way scholarships and teaching awards are fully funded from private donations and corporate sponsorships from local businesses, including Citizen's Bank, which provides Jolly with an office at the bank's headquarters in downtown Russellville.
Jolly was born and raised in Gadsden and received accounting and law degrees at the University of Alabama. He worked as an accountant in Atlanta and as an administrative assistant to the president of Case International and served a tour of duty in the U.S. Army before moving to Russellville, where his wife, Jeanette, and daughter, Ginger, graduated from Russellville High School. Jolly spent 15 years as district attorney and 18 years as the presiding circuit court judge for the 34th Judicial Circuit.
Since retiring in 2001, Jolly has run in 32 marathon races, including the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon. Thanks to arthritis in both knees, Jolly now enjoys bicycling and skulling. He also likes to spend time at home with his family and recommends the back patio of the Robert Trent Jones golf course in Iron City for a spectacular view of the Tennessee River.

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