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February 2018

Why Be A Pod Leader?

Journalist and author Janny Scott has been a pod leader since 2013. She shared with us why she does it.

The most moving feature of Scholarship Plus is the extraordinary young people who pass through it, and the teachers and mentors it celebrates each spring. But perhaps the sweetest feature of the program is the partnerships of friends who come together to help sustain a fledgling scholar through four years of college.

The pods, as the donor groups are known, offer a rare opportunity to collaborate closely with friends in an enterprise that is uniquely hopeful. Sometimes, the experience brings with it an unexpected gift — the chance to get to know a remarkable young person and to witness their progress into adult life.

I knew I had friends who’d support Scholarship Plus if they knew what it was. So I invited them for a drink with Soma Golden Behr, the co-founder. She talked with such passion about the scholars, the scholarships, and the “plus” — the unusual combination of internships, counseling, and occasions to form tight bonds with fellow scholars. By the time she finished speaking, I had a pod of eight.

Each of us agreed to contribute a fixed amount to Scholarship Plus every year for four years. Our total would support a scholar through graduation from college. If his or her college financial aid covered most of their tuition, our donations would cover the shortfall, plus expenses for necessities like books and transportation.

In our first four years as a pod, we were able to help not one scholar but two. The financial aid packages from their colleges were generous, so our donations could supplement both. When our scholars graduated, nearly every member of the pod signed on for another four years. One even brought in her cousin.

The pod has become a resource that goes beyond the financial. Our group has members in medicine, philanthropy, publishing, journalism, the law. Some have served as a source of advice and connections for the scholars; others are simply loyal donors, quietly committed to lowering the barriers to our scholars’ success.

As for the scholars themselves, we take their lead. One gregarious soul met with us often, individually and as a group. Others keep in touch by email or text. But at any distance, it’s been impossible not to be moved by their life stories, their drive, and their aspirations — and by the opportunity, as a group of friends, to be of help.

To learn more about pods or to join one, please contact Executive Director Kate Fenneman Stokes at or 917-749-2127.

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