LeadingAge Magazine · November-December 2018 • Volume 08 • Number 06

At provider organizations throughout the country, residents are connecting with and contributing to the greater community through generous scholarship funds that benefit employees and sometimes their children.

Giving Back to a Struggling Community

Take the Charlestown Scholar’s Fund, an initiative of the residents of the Charlestown Life Plan Community, located just west of Baltimore in Catonsville, MD. “Baltimore has struggled in the last few years socially, and [the fund is a way of] giving back and helping the community and being philanthropic,” says Charlie Eichenlaub, chair of the residents’ committee that runs the fund. The residents feel connected to the staff, he says. “They see the kids every day, they work with the kids, they talk to the kids and it's philanthropic.”

Charlestown resident Ann MacKay, who is president of the National Continuing Care Residents Association (NaCCRA), sees scholarship fund donations as one way she can make a difference in the lives of young people. “It is rewarding to see young servers starting out being nervous, shy and lacking confidence and blossoming into confident young adults as the months progress,” she says. Although NaCCRA does not promote the scholarship funds per se, its members share how the programs are organized in their communities, she adds.

The committee also hands out special awards funded by individual residents, as well as scholarships from 2 local universities and a community college. “It’s gratifying for the residents at the [awards] ceremony, when the kids come down in caps and gowns—it’s pomp and circumstance. There really is an excitement about that,” says MacKay.

Former recipients who have embarked on successful careers often speak at the ceremony, “so it comes full circle,” says MacKay. For instance, in 2015, the first recipient, Greg Olszewski, now a dining director at a private school, spoke at the same ceremony in which his son received a scholarship.

Chairing the committee is “one of the best things I've ever done in my life as far as philanthropy,” says Eichenlaub. He especially enjoys “sitting with each one of the awards applicants and hearing their stories, hearing their aspirations. They’re incredibly proud young people who have not had very good upbringing. Most of them don't have 2 parents—they may have one parent or a guardian or a grandmother or an aunt who has taken them in.”

The program, which awards scholarships worth $2,000, “is a big deal here. We have 114 scholars and we have enough money in the fund to cover them for 4 years,” says Eichenlaub. “We all get a kick out of it and I personally am passionate about it.”

Engendering an Environment of Giving

Residents at the Village on the Green, in Longwood, FL, also enthusiastically support the Brede-Wilkins Scholarship Fund, founded by charter residents Leonard O. Wilkins and Ellen H. Brede. This brother and sister, who attained success despite never attending college themselves, eventually contributed $638,000 to the program.

“It was pure philanthropy, as far as I'm concerned,” says Basil Pflumm, chair of the 10-member board that oversees the fund. “There [weren’t] any external motives—they just were interested in youngsters and they wanted to contribute to the future citizenship.”

Current residents continue with that philanthropic spirit. “We don't hammer anybody to give—the donations come in and in varying amounts,” everything from $600 per year to 6 figures, says Pflumm, who is also NaCCRA’s past president and its current secretary/treasurer. “I like to say that we don't really do fundraising.” Instead, he says, the board creates an environment that encourages residents to support staff. This includes holding an annual appreciation night to recognize residents who give to the program.

This year, 59 students, mostly dining room servers or health care staff, received $2,500 scholarships. To qualify, recipients must have a 3.0 GPA and participate in community activities.

The program, which has been administered by the Central Florida Foundation since late 2017, builds relationships between staff and residents, some of whom view the young dining room servers “like grandchildren.” It also fosters relations between the Village on the Green and the local community. “A lot of people know about it in the community, so they want their kids to work here,” says Pflumm.

From Small Beginnings …

In 2009, the year before she became Dean of the Academy at The Glenridge on Palmer Ranch, in Sarasota, FL, resident Mary “Bunny” Nesbit brought up the idea of awarding scholarships to employees or their children or grandchildren. In 2010, her idea was realized: The Academy handed out its first scholarships, 2 of them for $600 each. “It was a beginning,” says Nesbit.

Thanks to the generosity of residents at The Glenridge, including one who has donated more than $20,000, the fund is now more substantial. Over the last 3 years, residents contributed $58,000 to the Glenridge Academy Scholarship Fund (which is part of the Glenridge Charitable Foundation, which was created in 2016 and is run by a Glenridge employee). Donors are acknowledged on one of the 6 donor plaques that line a busy hallway past the main reception area.

Three separate plaques recognize recipients, who have a diverse range of career goals. Some employees take nursing, while one employee went to merchant marine college in Maine, and another graduated from law school and now works as a lawyer, says Nesbit. One worker, who is going for her Masters in speech pathology, is following the lead of 3 of her siblings who also worked in the dining room and went on to receive scholarships. (A fifth sibling also works at The Glenridge.)

Each year, the board does a blind review of applicants (who are identified by number), looking at their career goals, community involvement, academic performance and more. “We usually have 7 people who sit down in utter silence and read all the apps and grade them,” says Nesbitt. They divide an applicant's total score by the maximum score to obtain a percentage and rank the applications based on the percentage. “We feel this is the fairest way to rank the applications and it has worked well,” she says. This year, the board planned to give 12 scholarships, “but when we looked at the scores there was only 4/100s percent of a difference between #12 and #13, so we went to 13 [scholarships].”

Attracting Excellent Staff

Likewise, the scholarship program at Essex Meadows in Essex, CT, attracts workers, says Biff Shaw, president of the trustee board that oversees the Essex Meadows Foundation. “People actually will come here knowing about both our employee appreciation fund and this scholarship program, which can mean a considerable amount of money to a family that has children that are college age,” he says.

In 2018, the board raised about $150,000 and gave away $145,000, awarding 36 scholarships, including 6 to graduate students. “It's a very charitable community,” says Shaw, adding that the foundation occasionally receives some outside donations. For instance, one year it received “a very nice gift” from a patient who was pleased with care received at the freestanding Essex Meadows Health Center.

Scholarship amounts vary, sometimes going as high as $10,000. Although the committee asks for transcripts and letters of recommendation, virtually all applicants receive grants “unless it seems like it's completely implausible that it would work.” Scholarships usually go to full-time students, but occasionally the board funds short professional education courses like dance therapy.

The relationship between residents and staff is excellent, in large part because the residents recognize and appreciate all that the staff does for us, says board member John Johl. “It's more like family across the board then I could possibly have imagined,” adds Shaw.

Meadow Lakes photo
In June, 28 employees received up to $2,000 each in tuition grants from the Meadow Lakes Education Award Fund. Meadow Lakes is a life plan community in East Windsor, NJ. The recipients are enrolled in 15 colleges and technical schools and are studying a wide variety of subjects. Photo courtesy of Springpoint Senior Living.


Improving Both Quality of Care and Employees’ Lives

In Asheville, NC, recipients of the Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community’s scholarship program are typically certified nursing assistants (CNAs) who go on to nursing school. A few have taken other programs such as hospitality management, forensics and even air ambulance piloting. Unlike the other programs profiled here, employees who receive awards must continue working at least half-time while attending school.

“I think the committee is very generous and will give a person a try,” says committee chair Walton Boyer, who is also a NaCCRA board member. “Usually if they feel that the individual’s academic record in high school is a little weak, they suggest going to a community college first rather than to a university.”

The program—officially called the Danny Boone Scholarship Program Fund—commemorates a former executive director who sometimes used his own money to help employees through personal crises. Boone’s widow is part of the 10-member committee, which includes 6 residents as well as Deerfield’s director of philanthropy, who coordinates the annual fundraising drive. The appeal is successful—by Sept. 30, the committee had already exceeded its 2018 goal by nearly $13,000.

About half of the recipients stay working at Deerfield after they graduate, including its current director of nursing, who started out as a CNA and upgraded her education through the scholarship fund. The fund helps ensure that residents will benefit from improved quality of care should they need it, says Boyer.

“The residents [also] get satisfaction from giving to people who are poorer than they are and who are trying to improve their lives, he adds. “They are making a difference in the lives of people who are starting from essentially the bottom of the ladder and trying to work themselves up.”

Katherine O’Brien is a writer based in Toronto, ON, Canada.