Scholarships Honor Lives Well Lived

Velma Lemons’ teaching career spanned 39 years, including 30 years in Tyler ISD. Along the way, she and her husband raised four children in Tyler. In addition to serving in the PTA and teaching Sunday School at their church, Velma served in the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, guiding all three of her boys to earn their Eagle Scout and Order of the Arrow designations. In fact, Velma earned her own scouting honor when she received the Faithful Servant award in 1998 for her dedicated service to scouting.  In 2016, with the years catching up to their mother, her children contemplated what to do for their mother for Christmas. She lacked for nothing and at age 94, wouldn’t be able to appreciate most gifts, so they decided to honor her by creating the Velma Lemons Scholarship Fund. This scholarship will be awarded to a student who plans to follow in Velma’s footsteps and pursue a degree in education. It is a privilege to help the Lemons’ family honor their mother and support one of our great future teachers.

With the creation of the Velma Lemons Scholarship and ten other new scholarships in 2016, we launched a new scholarship season at East Texas Communities Foundation. We began accepting online applications for the Velma Lemons Scholarship and our 57 other scholarships at the beginning of the year, and we expect the number of applications to exceed 1,200 before the March 1st deadline.

So why do individuals, families and groups create scholarship funds at ETCF or other institutions such as colleges and universities? My experience has revealed three primary reasons: a desire to support students, a desire to encourage the pursuit of a particular career path, or a desire to honor or memorialize someone special to the donor. In fact, it is often a combination of one or more of these reasons that culminates in the creation of a scholarship fund.

First, many scholarship donors want to support a student by easing the financial burden of college. Depending on where a student desires to go to college, scholarship support may help them avoid taking out student loans, or allow them to go to a school they could not otherwise afford without the scholarship support. Donors often create scholarship funds that favor students with the greatest financial need. Most students with financial need will complete the standard FAFSA form, which is the “Free Application for Federal Student Aid,” a common federal form used by most colleges and universities to uniformly compute a student’s income and family support. Financing a college education is complex and scholarship support is an important piece of the puzzle that may set the course of a student’s future.

Second, scholarships are often directed to a particular field of study that reflects the interests or career path of the donor or the scholarship’s namesake. For example, the Velma Lemons Scholarship will support a future educator, while the East Texas Geological Society Scholarship will support students in the fields of geology and geoscience. Donors can work directly with a college or university to create a scholarship supporting students in a specific discipline at one favored institution, or they can create a scholarship at a community foundation that will support a specific field of study at one or more institutions of the student’s choice.

Finally, the overwhelming number of scholarships that are created at ETCF are created to honor or memorialize a couple or an individual. The Martha J. Critchfield Women in Finance Scholarship was established last year by Martha’s friends and family to honor her upon her retirement, and to encourage women to pursue careers in finance. The Alex Fleming Infinity Scholarship, Lauren Lewis Memorial Scholarship and Christopher Lyon Memorial Scholarship were established to remember young people who lived vibrant lives but left this earth too soon. Each scholarship seeks to support students who share the passions and interests of Alex, Lauren and Christopher. Each of Tyler’s last three mayors, Kevin Eltife, Joey Seeber and Barbara Bass, have been honored by their friends at the end of their terms with the creation of a scholarship fund. An honor or memorial scholarship is a positive way to recognize the impact someone has made on the lives of others and to mark their unique contributions to our community.

As hundreds of students are busy completing thousands of scholarship applications in our community, not to mention the tens of thousands of students completing hundreds of thousands of scholarship applications around the country, perhaps you should consider establishing a scholarship fund as your next best opportunity to Give Well this year

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