DirectLink Puts Emphasis on Education Through Scholarship Programs

For more than 30 years, DirectLink has been a stalwart supporter of local students seeking higher education and vocational opportunities, sponsoring local, statewide and national scholarship programs that have impacted thousands of high school graduates, college students and adult learners.

One of the most significant investments the telecommunications cooperative, which serves Canby and Mt. Angel, has made in local higher education is a $162,000 grant in 1991 upon which the Canby Rotary Foundation was chartered.

“This initial grant became the initial building block for the current Canby Rotary scholarship program, which has granted over $400,000 to 388 local scholarship recipients,” says Canby Rotary Foundation President Charlie Stinson.

This year alone, the Canby Rotary Foundation awarded $48,500 to 26 high school seniors and current college students. In addition, Stinson says, the Foundation funds have grown to over $550,000, so it not only supports the scholarship program but also other charitable work throughout the community.

DirectLink also continues to directly fund two scholarships administered by the Canby Rotary Foundation, including the DirectLink Scholarship Fund, which offers multiple scholarships in the range of $1,000 to $1,500 to graduating high school seniors and college students whose families live in the agency’s service territory and are current customers.

2019 Maureen Ernst Memorial Scholarship winner Emileni Lopez-Alfaro with Ernst family members.

Maureen Ernst.
“We have a great partnership with the Rotary,” says DirectLink’s Vice President of Member Services, Janet Bailey. “They do a fantastic job with our programs and all of the other sponsorships that they do. We’re proud to support their work.”

The co-op’s laudable efforts also include three scholarships named for longtime DirectLink board members or employees in its service areas of Canby and Mt. Angel, one of which is the Don Peterson Memorial Scholarship.

Don Peterson was an active community leader and a founding member of the Rotary Club of Canby, serving as the club president in 1983 and ’84. He was also the longtime chairman of DirectLink.

“This scholarship recognizes outstanding leadership from one Canby High School senior,” Bailey explains. Established in 2015, the scholarship is awarded once a year in the amount of $1,500.

DirectLink also supports two other scholarships that honor longtime Mt. Angel employees who were passionate about their community.

2020 Maureen Ernst Memorial Scholarship winner Ibeth Gomez with her family.

The Maureen Ernst Memorial Scholarship Fund was established in 2018 by the Mt. Angel Chamber of Commerce and is supported by community fundraising efforts and proceeds from the Mt. Angel Hazelnut Fest (now known as Chriskindlemarket), which Ernst co-founded, and an annual donation by DirectLink.

Ernst was a longtime employee of what was then the Mt. Angel Telephone Company and spearheaded the creation of the popular Member Appreciation Day event DirectLink still holds in that community to this day.

She was also a tireless supporter of the Chamber of Commerce and volunteered her time for a wide variety of community activities.

“Volunteering and giving back to the community was so important to Maureen,” explains Mt. Angel Chamber Treasurer Kristi Brackinreed. “When I first started working in town, she immediately reached out to me, took me to lunch and instantly became my mentor.”

Brackinreed says she joined the board of directors for the Mt. Angel Chamber and has become much more involved in her community because of Ernst’s influence.

2020 Maureen Ernst Memorial Scholarship winner Elise Suing.

“We knew that we wanted to do something to honor her when she passed, and giving a scholarship in her memory to a student who also volunteers and gives back to their community seems fitting,” Brackinreed says. “We miss her so much and so many of the things we continue to do with chamber is because of her and how much we love her.”

The scholarship awards an unrestricted $2,000 and recognizes an exceptional Kennedy High School senior who donates their time to community service and school activities.

“It exemplifies her spirit,” Bailey says of Maureen Ernst. “She was very much about serving the community and volunteering for school activities and things like that. I had the honor of knowing her, and the community of Mt. Angel was so very important to her.”

DirectLink also contributes annually to the Diana Coleman Memorial Scholarship in honor of another longtime Mt. Angel Telephone employee. It is administered through the Oregon Telecommunications Association (OTA) Scholarship Foundation, which offers scholarships to employees and immediate family members of OTA telecom and telecom supplier members operating in the state of Oregon to further education.

Coleman was a 30-year employee of the then-Mt. Angel Telephone Company (later incorporated into DirectLink), starting as an accountant, working her way up to office manager, vice president and, ultimately, general manager of the company. She was also a standing board member for the OTA Scholarship Foundation.

2020 Maureen Ernst Memorial Scholarship winner Spencer Bizon (left), pictured with Mt. Angel junior Lydia Berning.

The OTA Scholarship Foundation created this award to honor Coleman’s passing in 2013. Unlike the OTA’s other awards, which are largely based on academics, this scholarship honors one of Coleman’s greatest passions: students who encountered adversity and persevered and triumphed over their difficulties.

“It’s focused on somebody who has really beaten the odds, because that’s what Diana was all about,” Bailey says. “It isn’t necessarily about their GPA or things like that; it’s really about somebody who faced a lot of adversity and is succeeding.”

Bailey, who currently serves as president of the Oregon Telephone Association Scholarship Committee, spoke highly of the applicants she sees come through each year.

“It’s really a neat process to go through,” she says. “It’s very inspiring. I think back to when I was a high school senior, and I was not as impressive as some of these kids.”

Finally, DirectLink is an active supporter in and member of the Foundation for Rural Service (yes, Canby still counts as “rural” — at least by FRS standards) Scholarship Program, which has awarded more than $1 million in scholarships across the country since it was established in 1994.

These scholarships are available to students for their first year of college or vocational school when sponsored by a Rural Broadband Association member company, which includes DirectLink.

Bailey says education is a key value for DirectLink, and establishing and supporting scholarship programs is one of the ways they show it.

“Education is very important to the company, and it’s something that was very important to folks like Maureen Ernst, Don Peterson and Diana Coleman,” she says. “This generation is our future, and that’s why we want to invest. Education is important to all of us. We see it every day.”

Time and time again, Bailey has seen the incredible impact these programs make on recipients each year. She shared one example of a scholarship that was recently awarded to the grown son of a DirectLink employee who wanted to attend vocational school to further his career.

“He was not your typical student, because he was older, married and with children,” Bailey says. “For him, the scholarship was huge, because he was trying to support a family, work and go to school. In those cases, something like this can be the difference in being able to go or not.

“He actually thanked us personally because of the impact the scholarship had on his life.”

For information about DirectLink-sponsored, Canby-based scholarships, visit the Canby Rotary Foundation’s website or call Member Services in Canby at 503-266-8111 or Mt. Angel at 503-845-1120 to learn about other opportunities.

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