Richmond, Ind. – The Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated 120 area high school seniors with a big bash. Their School Is Cool program rewards students with near-perfect attendance, and the culmination of the program is the annual Senior Celebration.
The program is in partnership with Wetzel Auto and First Bank Richmond along with about 200 other Chamber members contributing to the prize stash totaling more than $287,000. The top prize went to one lucky recipient – Austin Rohe of Richmond High School – receiving his choice of a car or scholarship from Wetzel Auto.
“Our family loves this event,” said Jera (Wetzel) Schwer of Wetzel Auto. “It has been a joy to play a role in the School Is Cool program for now 13 years. Seeing the excitement of the winners over the year has been extremely rewarding.” In 13 years, the company has now donated $268,000 in scholarships and cars.
All 120 qualifying students received a $1,000 scholarship from both Indiana University East and Ivy Tech Richmond, both of which joined the cause and participated, for now, three years. Chancellor Chad Bolser of Ivy Tech and IU East’s Interim Chancellor, Michelle Mallott, both say they are happy to invest in this group of promising future students.
“Adding these scholarships to the lineup has been another layer of validation that showing up every day counts,” said Chamber President and CEO Melissa Vance. “Being present helps students succeed in school, employees succeed at work, and it helps us all succeed in life.”
Students arrived at the First Bank Kuhlman Center to find a wall of numbers where they chose their own lucky number for the night. Then, they enjoyed a photo booth, music, pizza, and games while they waited for everyone to get signed in and confirmed. Eastern Indiana Works brought their virtual reality goggles and a large screen for others to view as graduates took turns trying out various careers and workforce activities.
The evening was emceed by G101.3’s Keith Kassidy. One by one numbers were drawn and students invited to the stage for their photo opportunity. Then they moved to stations around the room, receiving thermal water bottles from First Bank Richmond, their scholarships, and finally their prize. The energy built throughout the night as even some mascots and cheerleaders celebrated with their respective schools.
The prize pool began with a value of at least $50. Then, they slowly increased to include items such as Airpods, Northface backpacks, gift cards, speakers, and TVs. Finally, the winners were narrowed to the final two recipients. One would receive a $500 Best Buy gift card and the other their choice of a Honda HRV, a Chevy Trailblazer, or a scholarship in the same amount.
“When we began the School Is Cool program in 2009, we knew we needed to reach kids at a young age with the message that attendance matters. Hopefully, as these kids grow up learning that determination, it will become a lifelong habit,” said Garry Kleer of First Bank Richmond. Kleer was serving on the Chamber board and worked with other business leaders along with Chamber staff to begin pulling the program together.
Now, the School Is Cool program is far-reaching, encompassing all five public school districts and Seton Catholic School. At the elementary level, one name is drawn from those achieving at least 98 percent attendance. That student receives a bike, sponsored by Meijer and Walmart. Middle schools do the same with the Chamber presenting winners with an electric scooter. All six high schools receive ticket bundles from G101.3 for winners from grades 9-11. In all, 26 schools benefit from this potentially life-changing initiative.
Vance summed up the event by saying, “Wayne County is incredibly fortunate to have organizations so invested in the future leaders of our community. Nights like tonight shout that from the rooftop!”
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