Second Chances

Strive Scholarship Program offers high school seniors a new outlook on school and the future.
Don Mooney drew from his own high school experience to create a program that gives second chances to high school students.

With schoolwork, family obligations, jobs, friends and other activities, yes, high school can be a busy and trying time for students. And when you add in the importance of a good grade-point average (GPA) to get into college, it’s little wonder that some students feel stressed.

A low GPA in the early years can weigh down the number all through high school. Some students, by their senior year, feel the fight may just be too difficult and stop caring about the academic road that lies ahead. That’s where the Strive Scholarship Program comes in, which gives struggling high school seniors incentive to do better in school and the tools to help them do it.

“Strive is a scholarship that is given to [select] students in the lower third of the graduating high school class,” says Don Mooney, president and founder of the Strive Scholarship Program. “We take the cumulative GPA from the ninth-, 10th- and 11th-grade school years and then compete it against their 12th grade GPA.” The student that has the most improvement between the ninth, 10th and 11th cumulative and their senior year wins a scholarship to Century College. To be considered for the scholarship, students must apply for the program in the fall of their senior year and, after acceptance, sign a contract saying they are willing to improve grades and attend more of their classes. Volunteers with Strive, who are also members of the Rotary Club of White Bear Lake, work with the district to bring in speakers on topics to benefit the students and also offer support and encouragement throughout the year.

Starting with just an idea in 1987, and reflecting on his own high school career and how he found the desire to change and work harder in his senior year, Mooney considered the program for a number of years before taking it to the White Bear Lake School District. Initially, he was a little concerned about creating a scholarship due to the financial obligations. “If I wasn’t able to raise the money, I would have to do it out of pocket,” Mooney says. “But after talking to the school and seeing they were in favor of it, it didn’t take much.”

In 1989, Strive gave out the first scholarship, and in 1993, it was awarded the McKnight Humanitarian Award and received $5,000. Mooney hasn’t looked back since, and in fact, has expanded into multiple school districts in other states and works with their local Rotary Clubs.

“I’ve truly seen the benefits for students who have applied and received the Strive scholarship,” says Karen Benjamin-Beck, who has worked for White Bear Lake school district for 28 years and the past 10 as a counselor. “The benefits are not just the rewarded scholarship, but the process of applying, interviewing and learning about themselves. [The students] learn how to present themselves as respectful, responsible adults.”

This past academic year, 30 students were involved in the program; more than half of the students saw their GPAs rise by .5 percent or more. In May, those students, their families and mentors attended a recognition banquet where one scholarship to Century College for a full year of tuition and books was awarded, and six additional $500 scholarships to be used toward books or tuition, were also awarded. Every student’s achievements were recognized.

“As they get older, students grow more mature and have a desire to do better,” says Mooney. “I’m not sure if the incentive is the full-ride in college, or just that when you take kids that are starting to hit 16 years of age, they start looking at what they could have changed and maybe things they wished they had done differently.”


For more information on the Strive Scholarship Program, go to

Upcoming fundraisers:

  • Taco John’s Run, Baby, Run 5K and 10K Walk/Run (August 2)
  • Kowalski’s Strive 10-Miler (November 2)
  • Spirit of White Bear Lake 5K and 5 Mile Walk/Run (April 4, 2015)