Still Going Strong at 90

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Students who receive financial aid from CSB come from every walk of life. Pictured are many of the most recent recipients at this year’s awards ceremony. (Provided)
Students who receive financial aid from CSB come from every walk of life. Pictured are many of the most recent recipients at this year’s awards ceremony. (Provided)

As it turns 90 next month, the Owings Mills-based Central Scholarship Bureau is celebrating the more than 7,000 underprivileged students statewide who have pursued higher education because of its largesse.

Originally founded as a solely Jewish organization, today CSB distributes more than $1 million of financial aid annually, offering interest-free loans and scholarships of up to $40,000 per person, according to the organization’s president, Jan Wagner.


“We are investing in the future,” she said. “For the students who receive financial aid, we are giving them the flexibility and opportunities to accomplish their goals.”

Helping students from every walk of life, the CSB has provided scholarship money to artists, doctors, musicians, lawyers and actors, among others. As a second-generation Central Scholarship recipient, Baltimorean Samuel Witten used his interest-free loans to pay for his undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland in 1975. He went on to work for the U.S. Department of State for 22 years, where he served as the acting assistant secretary of state and deputy legal adviser.

“Central Scholarship helped pay for my father to go to Hopkins for his undergrad and master’s degrees from 1934 to 1940,” said Witten, who practices international law at Arnold & Porter LLP in Washington, D.C. “It means a lot to me that the same company that paid for my father to go to college funded me as well.”

Paying off his loans after graduating from Columbia Law School, Witten believes CSB “put him on the right foot to launch his career in international law.”

Granting statewide recognition to the CSB, state Del. Dana Stein (D-District 11) recently sent the organization an official proclamation honoring its 90 years of service on behalf of his district’s delegation in Annapolis.

“Providing money for higher education is so critical,” said Stein. “Central Scholarship is in my district, and I have gotten to know them on a personal level. As the co-chair of the Financial Education and Capability Commission, I believe that providing scholarships and funding for financial aid has never been more important.”

Central Scholarship began in 1924 after the Hebrew Orphan Asylum shut down and left its remaining assets to fund vocational training for orphaned Jewish boys. At the time, each student was offered up to $300 of financial aid. Quickly expanding to include funds for academic education, six organizations — the Associated Jewish Charities’ Hebrew Benevolent Society, the Big Brother League, Daughters in Israel, the Jewish Children’s Bureau, the Jewish Children’s Society and the Young Ladies Benevolent Society — came together to create one centralized scholarship program from several individual programs.

“That’s how we got our name,” said program director Roberta Goldman. “After that meeting between the six organizations at the AJC on Lombard Street, the Central Scholarship Bureau was born.”

In the 1940s, Central Scholarship grew to provide funding for all Baltimore students regardless of religious affiliation. North Oaks resident Margie Warres, 96, devoted 36 years to the CSB and served as the organization’s first executive director in 1952. After retirement, she wrote a comprehensive history of the organization. Now, the bureau’s records and documents reside at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

“It had been a very precious and rewarding experience for me in over 36 years at the helm of this first agency of its kind,” Warres recounts in her written history of Central Scholarship. “CSB’s special quality has been ëheart,’ backed by sound judgment, fairness and integrity in its decisions by board and staff — and in its constant retesting of policies and ideas over the years.”

The CSB has had thousands of donors, including prominent Baltimoreans such as Moses Rothschild, Jacob Blaustein, Aaron Straus and Eleanor Levy.

Father of six and Talmudical Academy of Baltimore’s director of development Rabbi Yaakov Lefkovitz enjoyed seeing many of the donors and staff at the bureau’s annual donor event at the Cylburn Arboretum. Thanks to financial aid from the CSB, two of his children, Aron and Sivia, were able to study in Israel.

“The thing that really strikes me is how personal they are,” said Lefkovitz. “Every year, they hold an event for students to meet the donors. Since Aron is still in Israel, I went to represent the family. All of the Central Scholarship staff members not only remembered my name, but they asked me about Aron. It is not just a bank or a pot of money. These people truly care about each and every student they help.”

To celebrate its upcoming 90th anniversary, the CSB will host a communitywide event on Sunday, Nov. 8 at the Brown Center Institute of College of Art. Titled “Central Scholarship’s Got Talent,” the evening will feature four performances by scholarship students in the arts and honor the Morris and Pearl Silberman family for its recent large donation to the organization.

Viola player Jennifer Volmer will showcase her talents at the celebration through both classical and contemporary music. Volmer feared she would have to drop out of music school after her first year for financial reasons. Once the CSB stepped in, she was able to finish school and eventually pursue a master’s degree.

“Since my father passed away, we could not afford the Eastman School of Music,” said Volmer. “I got a full scholarship for my first year, but I did not think I could finish until Central Scholarship Bureau came to my rescue. They helped me pay for my last three years and helped my sister pay for schooling too.”

In order to meet the requirements, students need to have a 2.0 minimum G.P.A. and come from households earning below $90,000 to be eligible for academic scholarships and below $66,000 to receive scholarships for career and technology training. With more than 5,000 applicants in 2011, the CSB turned down 333 students with 4.0 grade averages. Generally funding less than 10 percent of all applicants, the CSB launched a $10 million Campaign for Students this year and has already reached its target.

“We wish we could help everyone who applies,” said development director Kathleen Elliott. “Many of our donors have been involved with Central Scholarship for multiple generations.”

From providing scholarships to African-American students before the Civil Rights Act to sending boys to yeshiva in Israel, the CSB hopes to build on its rich history for years to come.

“We have already done 90 years,” said Wagner. “Let’s do 90 more.”

To learn more about Central Scholarship’s history, view the Central Scholarship timeline.

afreedman@jewishtimes.com

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