17 Cranston graduates receive each in $1,000 interest-free college loans

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As most college students will tell you, anything helps. Any sort of money they can get – whether it be scholarships, grants, or even presents from the grandparents – go a long way in helping them afford college costs. So when the Cranston Memorial Fund said this year that once again they’ll give out $1,000 interest-free loans for each year of college, 17 former Cranston high schoolers lined up to get some additional financial help.

The award recipients, who range from freshmen to seniors in colleges across multiple states, were home on winter break and 13 of them went to the Sprague Mansion last Wednesday night to officially get their awards from members of the fund.

Linda Blamires, president of the fund, said that although only 17 received loans this year, they’ve had up to 32 kids on loans in years past.

The fund was established in 1956 by community leaders and family members who wanted to provide financial aid for Cranston college students who at that time were returning from the Korean War.

Now, the loans are given out to basically any students, either seniors in high school or those already in college, who fill out their application forms, which Nick Spolidoro, vice president of the fund, said are distributed each year to both high schools and the laborer’s school. He said that high school applicants have to tell them class rank and recipients of the loans must be enrolled in a certified post-secondary education school, which can be a community college or vocational school as well.

If a recipient fails out, they’re no longer eligible, and they’re required to send college transcripts at the end of each year to prove they’re still in college.

The initial funding for the loans came from donations, such as an $8,000 gift given by Spolidoro’s class of 1962. Former teachers and administrators also leave money to the fund after they pass on, Spolidoro said.

As those donations have piled up, the fund, made up of Cranston graduates, both recent and not-so-recent, has invested the money in stocks, according to Blamires, which have done “very well” and allowed them to have the funds for more than $20,000 in loans each year.

They even have surpluses sometimes, Blamires said, which allows them give out $1,000 grants to loan-eligible students, who are picked based on a name-drawing.

The fund also gets money back from former loan recipients, who start paying back their loans after they graduate from college. Blamires said that the graduates are put on payment plans for their loans, which could range from $1,000 to $4,000 depending on how many years they received a loan, that are 10 percent the first year and then grows steadily after, until the loans are paid off. Students sign an agreement with the fund knowing that when they graduate the money is all due back, albeit without interest.

She said that the repayment rate on the loans is around 80 percent overall, which is enough to keep sustaining the loans for future students.

Spolidoro said that the loans are a smaller amount compared to the sky-high costs that college students face, but $1,000 can still pay for books and is better than getting $1,000 in a loan that students are going to have to pay interest on.

The main issue that the fund faces, both Spolidoro and Blamires said, is awareness of the fund from current Cranston students.

 Spolidoro said that the only way to get information through to students is from the guidance counselors in the high schools. A representative of the fund does visit the guidance department head at both high schools to give them information and application forms to be distribute to the students, but awareness still isn’t as high as they’d like. Blamires said that they’re going to try to go to college fairs and set up a table for students to find out about the loans in the coming years. She’d also like to see application forms on the schools’ websites.

While they try to raise awareness, at least 17 former Cranston students did take advantage of the loans this year, and 17 interest-free $1,000 loans were awarded this year to help with their college expenses.

“We always get letters from students and parents who are appreciative of the thousand dollars,” Spolidoro said about the feedback they’ve received. “Our members [of the fund] are so thrilled to be able to help Cranston students.”

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