Toyota Awards $1 Million in Scholarships to 100 High School Seniors - Park Center Senior High's Kephart Named One of Only 12 'National' Winners; Receives $20,000

Jun 23, 2009, 06:07 ET from Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn., June 23 /PRNewswire/ -- Ashlee Kephart, a senior at Park Center Senior High School, is at the head of an exclusive class. Kephart was one of only 12 seniors nationwide to be named a "national" Toyota Community Scholar. That's quite an accomplishment when you consider that more than 8,000 seniors from across the country were nominated by their schools.

The Scholars program, now in its 13th year, honors the top 100 students in the U.S. who are proven leaders, both in the classroom and in the communities in which they live and serve. The winners were awarded a combined total of $1 million in college scholarships recently by Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. (TMS). The scholarships are valued at $20,000 (for national winners like Kephart) or $10,000 each, over four years, for study at a four-year college or university starting in the fall of 2009.

Since the Toyota Community Scholars program began in 1997, TMS has awarded over $14 million in scholarships to 1,300 students across the U.S.

The judges who chose the 2009 Toyota Community Scholars' class were impressed with the many volunteer projects in which Kephart has participated, particularly her role in establishing a Liberian Chapter of Kids for a Better World and a Child Development Center in Africa.

The center serves over 300 displaced street children and ex-combatant youth affected by years of war. In an effort to address their needs, Kephart created "Coins for Africa" and set up collection boxes for school supplies and decorated jars for monetary donations. Enlisting the assistance of her high school and a local bank, Kephart collected funds, which are used to pay for shipping of resources like food, educational services and play therapy for kids.

Having volunteered more than 5000 hours, she has raised a total of $20,000 from in-kind donations and $1000 in monetary donations for the center.

"This program empowered youth to make a difference," says Kephart. "That's what they will remember, and that's what will encourage them to continue to serve: the opportunity that they were given and the faces of those they touched."

An accomplished violinist, Kephart also collects and donates CD players, recorded music, and karaoke machines for kids at the Ronald McDonald House.

A true humanitarian, she began volunteering at the age of 5 and is involved in numerous charitable programs.

Kephart is a perfect example of what the Toyota Community Scholars program is all about.

"In these tough economic times, it is particularly rewarding to see these students having such a tremendous impact in their communities," said Michael Rouse, TMS vice president of philanthropy and community affairs. "They are stellar examples of service and commitment and remind us all what's really important."

About Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc. is the marketing, sales, distribution and customer service arm of Toyota, Lexus and Scion. Established in 1957, TMS markets products and services through a network of more than 1,400 Toyota, Lexus and Scion dealers. Toyota directly employs more than 34,000 people in the U.S. and sold more than 2.2 million vehicles in 2008.

SOURCE Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.