GREENFIELD – For Jenna Parsons, marching band was a home away from home.

The fellow musicians, the hard work, the directors — all of that became a place where Parsons found acceptance and excelled, serving as drum major for two years. And now, thanks to a full-ride scholarship, Parsons plans to major in music education to become a band director and improve students’ lives just like her leaders helped her.

Parsons, a senior at Greenfield-Central High School, and AJ Muegge, a senior at Eastern Hancock High School, learned they’d received the Hancock County 2018 Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship, which provides funding for a four-year college education at an Indiana college or university.

It hadn’t quite sunk in yet on Monday night, when the students and representatives from their schools spoke.

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“It was a very surreal moment,” Muegge said about the phone call notifying him he’d won. “I’ve known people who have received the scholarship, but it doesn’t seem real.”

More than 60 county high school students applied for the scholarship, which considers students’ grades, activities and community service, said Hancock County Community Foundation president Mary Gibble. The community foundation, which has participated in the program since 1998, organizes the application process and administers the scholarships on behalf of the Lilly Endowment.

Lilly Endowment Inc., which funds the scholarships, is a private philanthropic organization founded in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly and Co.

While all applicants must be in the top 15 percent of their class, Lilly Endowment Inc. allows county community foundations to tailor the scholarship to reflect the values of their communities, Gibble said. Hancock County’s competition focuses in particular on the community service activities of the applicants, which are narrowed down by third-party readers outside of the county. After the finalists are selected, a committee interviews the top eight students and selects the winners, said community education and grants officer Katie Ottinger.

Jenn Lightcap, a counselor at Eastern Hancock who has known Muegge since sixth grade, said the young man has a long list of accomplishments that sent him to the top of the list for the sought-after scholarship. He is currently at the top of his class, serving in the National Honor Society and student council. He’s a three-sport athlete, playing football, baseball and basketball, and taking on a rigorous course load, including college-level mathematics classes, Lightcap said.

He continues the mission his late mother began 12 years ago with Feast of Plenty, a yearly event providing a free Thanksgiving meal to more than 1,000 people in Hancock and surrounding counties. In addition, he has raised more than $28,000 for One Mind Institute, an international mental health research organization.

When new Greenfield-Central High School principal Jason Cary was asking teachers, coaches and leaders about the best students to represent the school, Parsons’ name kept coming up, he said.

“Teachers couldn’t speak any more highly of her,” he said. “And later, when I met her, I was so impressed with her maturity and poise.”

When Parsons isn’t conducting the Greenfield-Central Cougar Pride Marching Band as a drum major, she is involved with student council, student leadership academy, German club and several other bands.

In addition, she has fostered more than 70 animals through Partners for Animal Welfare of Hancock County, a no-kill shelter in Greenfield.

The scholarship lowers hurdles for students to attend the Indiana college or university of their choosing, organizers say.

Parsons plans to attend Butler University. The tuition at the private college would be too much for her to afford without financial assistance, she said.

Muegge, who wants to earn a chemical engineering degree, had planned to attend Purdue University. Earning the scholarship has opened up more opportunities for him, he said, and now he is considering Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology as well.

“I think he’ll be great wherever he ends up going,” Lightcap said.

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.