Riverkeeper environmental award program back on track after COVID reset
Hackensack Riverkeeper, the citizen-steward of the Hackensack River Watershed is pleased to announce it is accepting applications for the 2021 Utzinger-Vellekamp Scholarship. Now in its twentieth-first year, the program honors the memory of two founding Trustees who passed away while actively serving on the Waterkeeper organization’s board.
Established in 2001 as the Hackensack Riverkeeper Environmental Scholarship, the program was renamed in 2003 to honor the late Ronald Vellekamp, who died the previous year. In addition to serving on the Riverkeeper board, Mr. Vellekamp was a science teacher, Scout leader and part-time park ranger. From 2003 through 2019, the Ron Vellekamp Environmental Scholarship awarded a total of $17,000 to some of the most talented and environmentally literate high school graduates in Bergen, Hudson and Rockland counties.
Margaret Utzinger passed away in August 2018, after devoting over a quarter-century to the Hackensack River, first as co-founder of the Hackensack River Coalition in the late 1980s, then as founding Trustee of Hackensack Riverkeeper in 1997. During her twenty-one years on the board, she served two terms as president and remained an active, engaged trustee throughout.
“Last year would have been the first for the Utzinger-Vellekamp Scholarship, but as the first applications came in, schools were closing due to COVID-19,” recalled Executive Director Captain Bill Sheehan. “As much as we wanted to relaunch with the new name we wouldn’t have reached as many students as usual, so we made the tough decision to suspend the program.”
In addition to pandemic-relate issues Hackensack Riverkeeper lost its offices in a four-alarm fire on May 16, 2020 – an incident that would have destroyed any and all scholarship applications had there been any. Fortunately, the 2021 Utzinger-Vellekamp Scholarship is back on track and ready to support a deserving college-bound high school senior who excels academically and who has a strong commitment to environmental protection.
Teachers and guidance counselors at sixty-six high schools in Bergen, Hudson and Rockland Counties are eligible to nominate a student for the award and copies of the scholarship criteria have been sent to the guidance departments at each. Applications must be postmarked no later than Earth Day, April 22, 2021.
One important requirement is that all applicants must live and/or attend school within the 210-square mile Hackensack River Watershed. A list of watershed municipalities was included with the criteria sent to each school; plus is also available at www.hackensackriverkeeper.org. As regards students residing in dual-watershed communities like Paramus, NJ or Ramapo, NY, nominators are cautioned to ensure a student’s eligibility before submitting an application.
A panel of Hackensack Riverkeeper Trustees and staffers led by Sheehan and Program Director Captain Hugh Carola will review each application and consider the students’ academic achievements, environmental extracurricular activities and future plans. The winner of the $1000 unrestricted award will be announced by June 1, 2021.
Additional information and full scholarship application criteria are available by emailing Carola at [email protected]; or by calling him directly at 201-403-1992.
Those without a graduating senior in the family but who support their local best and brightest students can participate in the program by making a targeted donation to the scholarship fund. Donations to the Utzinger-Vellekamp Environmental Scholarship are tax deductible and can be made by check or online. Fully 100% of all such donations will go to support the fund.