VOA Scholarships for high school seniors

Al Forthan

You’d be hard-pressed to find another academic scholar­ship named after a drug dealer. Then again, you’d probably never find a drug dealer quite like Al Forthan.  The fine print here is that Al Forthan, once a crime lord in North Portland, eventually got clean. He went to prison nine times, ravaged his body with heroin, and controlled the illegal drug market in North Portland for years. But in April 1992, Al entered the addiction treatment program at the Men’s Residential Center (MRC) and began to change his life.

At age 48, he went back to school and became a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. Greg Stone, MRC’s Program Director, hired Al, making him the first alum to work as an addictions counselor at the center. Al changed his business from get­ting people on drugs, to helping people stay off them.

Al Forthan died in 2006. The day after his funeral, Greg started a scholarship program in Al’s honor to benefit students affected by addiction in their family. Now in its fifth year, the program will award various scholarships to high school seniors all over Oregon totaling more than $30,000.

In the past five years we have worked hard to grow the scholarship and it is because of the generosity of the community around us that we were able to open it up to students from all over Oregon this year.  Last year our largest scholarship was for $2,500 and this year it will be $4,000 given in increments of $1,000/year.  We decided to do it this way because we wanted to be intentional about our relationships with the students.  It is obvious there is a need for financial assistance but it is also obvious most of these students graduating need help navigating post high school and many of them do not have that support system.   This year we have also established a blog and a facebook page to provide resources to teachers and students about the scholarship, giving them a network of people who are tackling the same issues.

It is stories like these that keep me coming to work every day and going to local high schools to talk about the devastating effects that drugs have on our communities.  Recently Greg Stone, our Program Director, was speaking at Concordia University to a class of men and women who are studying to become social workers.  After the presentation a student approached him and told him how she had won the scholarship the previous year and how it had given her the confidence to apply for college and move on with her life.  She said she was studying social work in hopes of helping children who are living and struggling with addiction in their own families. These stories give me hope.  People do change and decide to help others even when life has not been good to them.

One scholarship for $4,000 will be awarded this year and many others in various amounts throughout Oregon.  We also award scholarships in various amounts to each of the ten Portland Public High Schools. Application deadline for the scholarships is April 4th, 2011.  For more information please call Kristin Yates at 503-802-0299 or email kyates@voaor.org. Facebook.com/forthanscholarship or forthanpdx.tumblr.com. ●