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Pennsylvania Society Launches Four-Year Scholarship Fund

One of Pennsylvania’s most time-honored political traditions is tacking on a philanthropic arm this year as part of its annual fundraising weekend.

Every December, the state’s top politicians head to New York City to see and be seen at a long weekend of fundraisers, parties and one swanky gala collectively referred to as Pennsylvania Society. The group’s annual ball, set for Saturday, Dec. 12, is expected to draw about 1,300 people to Manhattan’s famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

PA Society Executive Director Carol Fitzgerald said the group established a four-year, $800,000 college scholarship fund with Montgomery County-based humanities nonprofit Maquire Foundation for Pennsylvania students this year. Though funded in part by sponsorships and donations related to the annual event, the fund is not dependent on attendees’ support, she said.

“Every dollar raised from sponsorship will go to the scholarships,” she said.

Students must commit to attending a Pennsylvania school, demonstrate financial need, have a grade point average of 3.0 or higher and have engaged in community service, she said. An outside agency will review applications.

Monies raised in past years served to fund similar charitable donations, she said. The locale is a tradition “that goes back to the late 1800s when captains of industry had long periods of business dealings in New York and couldn’t travel back to their home state,” she said. Tickets start around $400.

Several legislators have publicly discussed skipping the trip if the state doesn’t have a budget by then, including Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) and Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia).

Fitzgerald declined to comment on whether the party's guest list could suffer. She said last month that legislative hand-wringing wouldn't affect society planning.

The budget impasse, now entering its sixth month, is wreaking financial havoc on local governments, human service nonprofits and school districts that rely on state funding. Many have resorted to borrowing, laying off staff and curbing services to make do. County governments are threatening to sue the commonwealth.

WITF reporter Mary Wilson contributed to this report.