Although she has just wrapped up her freshman year of college, Allie Paulson is already giving back to students at her alma mater, South St. Paul Secondary School.

Paulson raised $3,000 via social media to kick off the Allie Paulson Family Scholarship, an annual award given to a dance team member with at least a 3.0 GPA and a passion for volunteering.

“There were no scholarships for dance team, so I wanted to start one,” said Paulson, a student at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

She’s not the only generous South St. Paul alumnus. This year the South St. Paul Educational Foundation gave out $340,000 in scholarships to 132 seniors, with 78 of the scholarships from alumni, teachers and administrators.

More than a few donations were from youthful alumni like Paulson, who said they’re eager to pay back the community and schools that helped them attend college.

“It’s heartwarming to see these kids thinking about this 10 to 15 years early,” said Cari Vujovich, executive director of the foundation.

Scholarships range from $500 to $20,000, Vujovich said, and the $340,000 doled out this year is the foundation’s biggest total yet. The foundation, which also helps to fund school projects and programs, now holds about $5.5 million in assets.

With the cost of higher education climbing every year, the foundation’s model — alumni and businesses contributing money so high school grads can go to college — may be the wave of the future, said Dave Metzen, the former South St. Paul superintendent who started the educational foundation in 1984.

“A lot of what’s been happening in colleges for 50 years is what high schools are going to have to start doing,” Metzen said.

While many school districts have foundations, some give out scholarships and others focus on areas like giving grants to teachers or programming.

Foundation 191, the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district’s foundation, plans to start awarding scholarships, said Steve Fiebiger, president of the board of directors of Foundation 191.

Reasons for giving

South St. Paul, with a population of 20,000, has a strong sense of place. Several donors said they appreciated growing up in a small town (once known for its meatpacking plants) where everyone knew everyone else, tucked beneath bustling St. Paul.

“One of the things this community has is community,” said Chuck Ochocki, principal at South St. Paul Secondary. “There’s just this sense of pride in being from South St. Paul.”

“We still identify as being from there, and always will be,” said Jacub Kaliszewski, a 2002 grad who, along with wife Kimberly Ambright, funds a $1,000 scholarship for students studying medicine. “Honestly, we felt we had such an amazing experience at South St. Paul [schools].”

Many donors received scholarships themselves, said Vujovich, and go on to have close relationships with the student who gets their scholarship.

“I’ve always felt like I was so grateful to get that scholarship,” said Kory Reckinger, a 2003 grad who funds a $1,000 entrepreneurial scholarship. “I’m in a place where I’m so used to paying that whatever dollar a month for my student loans … that I just was like, you know what, I can continue to pull that aside.”

Paulson, a fourth-generation South St. Paul resident, got a $1,000 scholarship from the VFW last year. This year, she paid it forward, picking a student to receive her own scholarship. It’s in honor of her friend, an avid dancer who died of cancer, she said.

“I wanted to start as early as possible and give back,” she said. “Once a Packer, always a Packer.”