Vases of flowers adorned the tables at the Regional School Unit 71 board of directors meeting Aug. 27 to welcome David and Beverly Worthington, who have pledged $400,000 in college scholarship money to Belfast-area students.

In the coming year, the Worthington Scholarship Foundation will fund college scholarships of up to $16,000 for as many as 25 graduating seniors in the class of 2019. The awards will be determined by the district's scholarship committee, based on student applications and the foundation's mission of supporting first-generation college students and students in poverty.

Superintendent Mary Alice McLean said the committee previously has managed scholarships totaling only "a fraction" of what the Worthington Scholarship Foundation is offering.

Last year 71 of Belfast Area High School's 103 graduates reported they will attend college, according to statistics provided by the district. Roughly half of those are first-generation college students.

"We are in dire need of this kind of assistance," RSU 71 board Chairman Caitlin Hills said Monday. "It is and will be an inspiration to all of our young people that need that extra help."

The Worthingtons, who are summer residents of Spruce Island, started the foundation in 2010 with scholarships to students at Oceanside High School in Rockland. The program expanded in 2015 to Camden Hills Regional High School, and in 2017 to Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro. Last year, the foundation awarded scholarships to 95 students in Knox County.

On Monday, the Worthingtons told the board they are continually adjusting the eligibility criteria to better help students who need it, which includes working with the colleges to complement their support systems.

"You'll see changes," David Worthington said, "but we're here to stay."

Recently, the foundation established an emergency fund to cover other expenses for low-income families that are stretched to the limit.

"Let's say (the family) has borrowed all they can borrow," Beverly Worthington said. "And let's say a student's eyeglasses break. It's something that can derail them."

The fortune behind the foundation comes from David Worthington's work as a geophysicist advising oil companies. Beverly Worthington is a retired corporate commercial pilot. On Monday, the couple exhibited the poise of wealthy benefactors, but they assured the RSU 71 board that they started the program "instead of playing golf all day" because they, like many area students, came from a place of need.

"We've walked in the shoes of your students," David Worthington said. "We're not coming down from on high to spread the wealth. We know of which we speak."

Beverly Worthington was the first in her family to attend college. She recalled the obstacles that stood in the way of her dream to be a pilot, which she was able to overcome with help.

"People were willing to take a chance on me," she said. "Things happened because people believed in me. We believe in these students, and they know it, and they're working their hearts out."

The Worthingtons said they are hoping to expand the program to other districts in Waldo County. On Aug. 28, Regional School Unit 20 Superintendent Chris Downing said he was unaware of the foundation but planned to reach out to the organization about working with the Searsport-based district after learning of the gift to RSU 71.

Superintendent Paul Austin of Regional School Unit 3 did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether the foundation had approached the 11-town Western Waldo County school district.