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    Posted July 9, 2009

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The 18th Annual Union Plus Scholarship Awards

The 18th Annual Union Plus Scholarship Awards have just been announced, and for the fifth consecutive year, two children of Actors' Equity members are among the recipients. Tani Brown of Los Angeles, CA, whose father Roger Brown is an Equity member, has been awarded a $4,000 scholarship and Kristin Barber of Brighton, MA, whose stepmother Joan Susswein Barber is an Equity member, has been awarded a $500 scholarship.

The awards are granted to students attending a two-year college, four-year college, graduate school or a recognized technical or trade school. Union Plus has awarded $2.8 million in educational funding to 1,813 union members, spouses and dependent children. Recipients are selected based on academic ability, social awareness, financial need and appreciation of labor.

More than 4,200 applications were received from students representing 49 states, Canada and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"We understand what working families are facing," says Leslie Tolf, president of Union Privilege, the organization that provides an array of benefit programs for union families, including the scholarship program. "Many of this year's applicants made it clear that, without help from our scholarship program, they would have to put their dreams on hold or forget about college entirely."

Tani Brown participated in her first union strike at age 14. But she started understanding the importance of union pay and benefits at an even earlier age, as her family struggled to overcome hardship and health issues. Tani set her sights high and has completed three years at Princeton, maintaining excellent grades while playing basketball and working toward a degree in religion with a minor in African American studies. "Additionally, I hope to attend law school after college," she says "to eventually become a music or public relations lawyer. This will also provide me with an option to work in labor-to protect workers legally and to protect the rights of all individuals."

Kristin Barber remembers the excitement of meeting her new stepmother, a professional actress, when Kristin was 9. As it turns out they were already connected. "Coincidentally, I joined Actors' Equity the very summer she was born. True, we were in different states (I was in Michigan and she was in Tennessee) but ten years later our lives would intersect and we would remain close until this day."

Joan taught Kristin the importance of unions in the entertainment industry. "If there were no actors' unions, actors would be mistreated. They would not receive health insurance, they would work in unsafe environments, and they would be forced to work extremely long hours with no breaks."

The acting bug caught Kristin when she was young, and Joan became her first voice and acting coach. "It has always meant a great deal to me that my stepdaughter chose to follow in my footsteps and become a singer/actor and member of Equity. Kristin has had to work very hard to pay for her schooling, both undergraduate and post-graduate, so this Union Plus Scholarship means a great deal. When I learned she had won the scholarship I was not surprised; no one deserves it more."

Kristin will be using her acting and singing skills as a cantor when she completes her graduate degree in Jewish music and education from Hebrew College.

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