The Rotary Club of Oak Park-River Forest is on a mission – to empower girls. 

In a partnership with the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, the Rotary Club is offering girls who are in sixth- through eighth-grade and are from Oak Park, River Forest and other nearby suburbs up to $600 in grants to cover the cost of any educational class or camp of their choice. Those classes or camps could range from arts, science and math, sports – whatever the girls want to pursue, said Linda Sahagian, longtime member of the local chapter. 

The grants are intended to support families in need, and applications for the next cycle of enrichment grants are open and due by Aug. 1.

Sahagian said the idea for the grants was inspired by the life and work of two club members, the late Virginia “Ginie” Cassin and Sister Michelle Germanson. A lifelong Oak Park resident, Cassin became the first woman to serve as village clerk for Oak Park, a position she held from 1973 to 1993, and the first woman to join the local Rotary, which began admitting female members in 1988. An advocate for equality, Cassin was key in helping land Oak Park’s housing ordinance, which passed in 1968, according to the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest. She also chaired the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park and worked to restore the famed author’s birth home, according to a Chicago Tribune article.   

Germanson, too, left a legacy in next-door River Forest. For 26 years, from 1992 to 2018, Germanson was president of Trinity High School where she led the adoption of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Trinity was the second school in the state and the first Catholic school to become an IB accredited school, Wednesday Journal previously reported.

Both women died in October 2020, just five days apart. Cassin, 96, passed away Oct. 16, 2020, while Germanson, 76, died Oct. 21, 2020. Their deaths left a huge hole in the neighboring communities, especially among Rotary Club members, Sahagian said. 

“They were both strong Rotarians,” Sahagian said. “… We really wanted to do something special.”  

The club decided to name the grant after the two women – the Cassin-Germanson Rotary Fund Grant – and earlier this year awarded its first recipients, two middle school girls from Oak Park and River Forest. Sue Quinn, Rotary Club president, said the girls are eighth-graders, one of whom is from Percy Julian Middle School, the other from Roosevelt Middle School. One of the girls, Quinn said, used her grant money to pay for summer-long pottery lessons at Terra Incognito Studios and Gallery, while another used hers to attend NASA space camp. 

Sahagian and Quinn said the point of the grant is to give girls a chance to pursue their dreams and find their passions outside of school, and maybe even their own hometowns. 

“If you have any interest in any area of humanities, sciences, arts that you would like to pursue that you haven’t been able to through school and through your own connection, name it. Apply for it. And let us help you achieve it,” Sahagian said. 

For more information, visit the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation at www.oprfcf.org and click the tab “Grants & Scholarships” on the site’s homepage and scroll down to find the “Cassin-Germanson Rotary Fund Grant.”

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