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BAUMHOLDER, Germany — When Tracy Newborn was on the hunt last school year for financial aid and scholarship money to help with his daughter’s college expenses, there was one opportunity that escaped notice: the Veterans of Foreign Wars Voice of Democracy scholarship program.

The audio essay contest for high school students doles out more than $3 million in scholarships each year. But Newborn’s daughter and many other Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe students missed their chance at a piece of the scholarship pie.

“My daughter even talked to a guidance counselor who had never heard of it,” said Newborn, who recently joined the Baumholder VFW post. “I was stunned.”

Last year, just one Baumholder High School student took part in the contest. Consequently, that student was the first-, second- and third-place winner, taking home close to $300, Newborn said.

Participation rates weren’t much better at many other DODDS schools, according to George Gilgore, commander of VFW Europe. Now, the VFW is starting a public awareness campaign to boost participation in this year’s contest, which awards $30,000 to the national winner.

The deadline is Nov. 1. The theme is “My Role in Honoring America’s Veterans.”

“Who better to talk about that than our students?” Gilgore asked. “In just about every family, there’s some member of the household who’s been deployed.”

Winners at the local level receive scholarship money raised by their VFW posts. Those students go on to compete at the district level for more scholarship money.

Finally, two Europe finalists square off to determine the region’s winner. That person receives an all-expense paid trip to the national competition in Washington, where the winner of the $30,000 scholarship is named.

Of the 279 DODDS Europe students who participated in Voice of Democracy last year, 208 of them were from Kaiserslautern’s two high schools.

“We’re looking to get more participation in the rest of Europe,” Gilgore said.

The last time a DODDS-Europe student won the national event was in 1994.

In addition to the Voice of Democracy competition, the VFW is pushing for more involvement with the Patriot’s Pen, an essay contest for middle school students. The national winner receives a $10,000 savings bond. As in the Voice of Democracy program, prizes also are awarded at the local level.

In Baumholder, Newborn will set up an information booth at the local PX to promote the program in the weeks ahead. VFW leaders around Europe also will reach out to school leaders to help raise awareness.

“We want to get the word out,” Newborn said.

For more information about how to enter the VFW scholarship contests, visit www.vfw.org or contact your local VFW post.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
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