It's not uncommon to hear of unwon scholarship awards just waiting for a lone student application. But how do you tap into this seemingly free money?

"There really is a lot of money out there," says Penny Petersen, director of school counseling for the city of Hampton. "But a lot of young people won't follow through with an application process for $500 or $1,000. They don't think it's worth the time, especially if there is an essay involved. But when they go to buy their college books for the first time, they realize how much they need that $500."

Experienced parents will tell you that finding that money is its own homework assignment. But if you're diligent — and juniors, you should start looking now, say most guidance counselors — anyone can get financial help, says Petersen.

"I don't want students to think that they can't get a scholarship because they don't consider themselves the brightest of the bright," Petersen says. "Don't be scared of the competition. There are scholarships for everyone."

And the best way to find that money is to concentrate on your local contacts.

"Most of the scholarships are not from national searches," Ed Irish writes on his financial aid blog. Irish is the director of financial aid at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.

"They come from local sources such as high schools, community organizations, parents' employers and places of worship," he says.

Here are a few opportunities to get you started.

Look for volunteers

Where there are active volunteers, there is fundraising. And a portion of that money often goes into creating scholarships for local students. Think about local organizations in your neighborhood. Ask family friends for suggestions, and conduct an Internet search for local volunteer clubs.

Kiwanis. Many Kiwanis chapters offer scholarships, so be sure to check with all of the local clubs. The Warwick Kiwanis Club offers two scholarships for students in Newport News, for example. The By the Bay Kiwanis Chapter offers a scholarship to a student at Phoebus High School in Hampton. Students should inquire at the guidance counselor's office.

Lions Club. Like Kiwanis chapters, many Lions Clubs offer scholarships. The James City Lions Club provides two scholarships annually, one to a student at a four-year college and another to a student who will attend a community college. Send a letter to Margene Hartsough at 9927 Walnut Creek Road, Toano, VA 23168 for details and an application.

Friends of Hampton Roads. A scholarship will be awarded to an African American high school senior who demonstrates financial need, has a G.P.A. of 3.0 or greater and plans to attend a four-year college or university. Friendsofhamptonroads.com. Deadline April 1.

Vice Admiral Samuel Gravely Scholarship. The Tidewater Chapter of the National Naval Officers Association awards three scholarships (one $2,500 scholarship and two $1,500 scholarships) to a Hampton Roads high school senior. The application form can be accessed at dailypress.com/savvyblog. Deadline April 2.

Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. The Hampton-Newport News Alumni Chapter offers a variety of scholarships to male graduating seniors. Many of the scholarships consider both financial need and merit. Visit www.sbo.nn.k12.va.us/gearup for more information.

The Williamsburg, James City County Community Scholarship Fund. The merit-based scholarship is available to students graduating from Jamestown, Lafayette and Warhill high schools. In 2009, 52 scholarships were awarded. Students can receive application forms from the guidance office.

The Hampton Roads Community Foundation. Based in Norfolk, the foundation focuses on educational aid to students in south Hampton Roads. There are some opportunities for Peninsula-based students, though. Visit norfolkfoundation.org for a list of scholarships.

Think about your associations

When you're searching for college scholarships, try to think of every association and membership you have. Churches, neighborhood associations and credit unions commonly offer scholarship opportunities to members.

Bayport Credit Union. Bayport offers 22 scholarships under four different programs, including tuition booster scholarships for full-time working professionals who are pursuing a degree. Applications can be accessed at bayportcu.org. Deadline is March 29.

Chartway Federal Credit Union. The credit union offers nine $1,500 scholarships. Apply at chartway.com/scholarship. Deadline March 31.