By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Councilman Vincent Gentile remembers how happy he was many years ago when as a senior at Fort Hamilton High School in Bay Ridge, he was awarded a scholarship from the Kassenbrock Brothers Memorial Scholarship Fund.
Gentile, who left Brooklyn after high school to attend Cornell University, said the scholarship was like bringing a piece of his beloved Bay Ridge to Ithaca with him.
“Ever had a piece of warm apple pie in the comfort of your own home? Well, that’s similar to the feeling I had as a recipient of the Kassenbrock Scholarship,” Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) wrote in an email to the Brooklyn Eagle. “Facing the prospect of going to college some 250 miles from home at Cornell University was somewhat daunting for me as a teenager. So to be acknowledged and helped by a local scholarship fund like Kassenbrock made me feel like I was taking some part of ‘home’ with me to college. The scholarship boosted my confidence and also helped pay for my textbooks that freshman year."
Gentile is one of hundreds of southern Brooklyn residents who are past recipients of a Kassenbrock Brothers Memorial Scholarship. The fund, named in memory of Vincent and Walter Kassenbrock, the founders of the Bay Ridge Community Council, was established nearly 40 years ago to reward college-bound high school students for their community service projects.
To be eligible, a student must have good grades and be able to document a community service project. Students have been awarded Kassenbrock money for cleaning up local parks, volunteering at nursing homes, tutoring, organizing blood drives and conducting graffiti removal projects.
“Every year when we are looking at the applications, I’ve astounded by the amount of service these kids do,” Mary Ann Walsh, the scholarship’s administrator, told the Eagle in a recent interview. “It gives you a good feeling about young people."
The scholarships, which range from $1,000 to $4,000, aren’t enough to pay a student’s college tuition, but as Gentile indicated, the funds can provide a boost to a cash-strapped student looking to buy college textbooks. The scholarships can also serve as an incentive to a teenager to continue to do volunteer work, Walsh said. “I like to think that we inspire them to keep going,” she said.
The Kassenbrock brothers started the community council in 1951 to bring together the dozens of civic, business and religious groups that were all working toward the same goal – to improve the quality of life for residents of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Fort Hamilton – and have them work together.
Since much of the community council’s work involved community service projects, it made sense to have community service be the hallmark of the scholarship fund, according to Walsh. "They have to have solid grades in school, but what really wins them the scholarship is community service," she said.
While the fund was set up to memorialize the community council’s founders, it is technically not part of the council, Walsh said. The fund operates independent of the community council.
The fund, which is operated by a board of trustees, hands out approximately a dozen scholarships a year. The awards are announced in June.
To keep the selection process fair, the board of trustees, which has 31 members, does not know the names of the students under consideration. The board meets in April to make the decision. At the meeting, Scholarship Fund Chairman David Whitebook reads the applications aloud to board members and describes the community service projects the students have submitted. “We evaluate 30 to 40 applications each year. We score each student on a scale of one to 10 and then we remove the highest and the lowest score that each student gets,” Walsh said. The students with the highest scores are awarded scholarships.
The funds for the scholarships come from a variety of sources. The trustees hold two main fundraisers a years; a luncheon in March and a bus trip to Atlantic City in October. The scholarships are also funded through donations, including many that are given by local families in memory of a loved one. The family of the late Ursula Schmidt, the first administrator of the scholarship fund, established a Kassenbrock Scholarship in her name.
Past scholarship recipients also donate money to help the fund help today’s students, Walsh said.
John Quaglione, deputy chief of staff to state Sen. Marty Golden, is past winner who donates every year, according to Walsh.
“It was really a big deal to me when I won it. It was an exciting thing for a high school student. You got to see your name in the newspaper and on fliers. You got to go up on stage at the council meeting. It was a very big deal,” Quaglione told the Eagle. Quaglione, who was a senior at Adelphi Academy at the time, performed numerous community projects, including volunteering at then-congresswoman Susan Molinari’s office, painting street curbs for the Fifth Avenue Board of Trade, cleaning up Shore Road Park with the Bay Ridge Parks and Waterfront Council and offering blood pressure screenings for the BRAVO Youth Squad.
Quaglione said he donates to the fund more than 15 years after he received a scholarship, “because I think it’s important to give back.” It’s also important, he said, to keep the fund alive so that it can help future generations of students. “You want to recognize kids. You want to encourage kids to take ownership of the community. This is a good way to start,” he said.
Gentile, who said he will be “forever grateful” for the scholarship, later served as president of the community council. “After having been a scholarship recipient and then to come back to Bay Ridge and eventually get to serve as president of the community council was a storybook life event come true,” he said.