The Dream Giver

In Features, Human Interest, Non-fiction on August 15, 2013 at 6:47 am

Written by Alex Ashley

“Education is the most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, once said.

Maybe the man has a point.

After all, the words ring true; education, however it is attained or administered, has always given impetus to success in communities round the world.  But the truth of those words is more clearly defined when broken down and analyzed in our own communities, and in the individuals who make up those communities.

Fulfilling Dreams, Unlocking Potential

“As board members, with our own life and career experiences, we realize that education was a fundamental part of our own success,” says Spokane resident, Scott Ewing.  Scott also happens to serve as the board president for the CCS Foundation, which exists to support the community colleges of Spokane, along with its students and faculty.  The “board” Ewing speaks of is the CCS Foundation’s Board of Directors—a 28-member team of 28 volunteer community leaders who freely give of their time to keep the Foundation functional and moving forward.  The CCS Foundation operates on three words, which serve as the Foundation’s official mantra:

“Inspire.  Enrich.  Uplift.”

“The CCS Foundation is a ‘dream-giver’ for students in our region,” explains Christine Johnson, PhD.  Christine is the Foundation Chancellor.  She continues: “It helps fulfill dreams, unlocks potential and serves as a catalyst for the community’s civic investment in the future.  It’s value-led and mission-driven; its clarity of purpose is combined with the passion of generous civic and business leaders who believe in the students and their capacity to make a contribution to their families, our community and indeed our nation.”

When Ewing and Johnson sing such praises about the Foundation they work so hard for, they aren’t tooting the horn of a program that doesn’t deserve it.  The Community Colleges of Spokane Foundation is a marvelous regional program that has yielded astonishing fruitage from their efforts from day one, in 1972.

Christine Johnson, quoted above, continues: “The Foundation has, first and foremost, established the development of human capital as a priority, building skill and intellectual capital in a wide variety of fields—future scholars, workers, business leaders and good citizens that will build on the work done to date and develop capacity in fields of the future.  The Foundation’s legacy is the value for stewardship and civic capacity that spans generations and strengthens the vitality of every community in our region.”

The Dollar Amount

Among the accomplishments of the CCS Foundation is their efforts to give deserving students a financial “leg up” in the world of higher education, helping them forge the river of economic hardship to arrive safely on the sandy beaches of dreams realized.

“There are over 36,000 students annually that attend Spokane Community Colleges, and many of our students are in need of financial aid to support their educational efforts, especially since tuition rates have increased significantly,” explains Ewing.  The CCS Foundation has shown itself to be very proactive in opening up opportunities to receive an education, building a base of vital resources for students.  During the last five years, they have provided 6,857 students with over $2,000,000 in scholarships; that is an average of $400,000 given to over 1,000 students annually.

A comprehensive collection of well over 100 scholarships are offered through the CCS Foundation, for prospective recipients of all walks of life, and with many different goals.  For example: the “Janice and Bruce Campbell Memorial Scholarship,” dedicated to helping “single mothers working toward a college or nontraditional degree.” Or, the “Daybreak-Spokane scholarship,” a need-based scholarship dedicated to helping students who are successfully involved in a recovery program.  Then, too, there are many others with a more general focus.  The list of scholarships available to students at any given time is pages long, each one with the students’ needs in mind.

Eating, Drinking and Golfing for Scholarships

Every spring, the Community Colleges of Spokane Athletic department hosts a golf tournament on behalf of the CCS Foundation, known as the Bigfoot Golf Classic.  This year was the 10th Annual golf classic, held on June 14th at the Downriver Golf Course.  144 step onto the course to ‘golf for scholarships,’ so to speak, raising money to support Community Colleges of Spokane.  Players pay $125 per person to participate, which includes cart and green fees, a tee prize, a barbecue dinner and a golf starter kit for each player.  Funds raised are used to support CCS athletic programs.

Since the first Bigfoot Golf Classic in 2004, over $200,000 has been raised.

The Foundation also holds an annual “Wine and Gourmet Gala”; students from the Inland Northwest Culinary Academy work alongside extremely skilled, professional chefs to prepare an impressive, four-course meal, paired with only the best regional wines from the evening’s VIP guest wine maker.  A silent and live auction are held, giving attendees the chance to take home their favorite items, all the while supporting the Spokane Community College Hospitality Management department, and the CCS Foundation.

This year, the Gala event earned over $50,000.

Touching the Future

Another triumph of the CCS Foundation is their “Touch the Future House,” a project the Foundation undertook in 1996.  The CCS Foundation underwrites construction expenses through cash and in-kind contributions from the private sector.  Spokane Community College students in architectural technology, carpentry, HVAC/sheet metal and landscape/horticultural technology design and construct a residential home as part of their curriculum.  A committee of community volunteers oversees the project from start to finish.  Later, the home is put on the public market and sold; the proceeds are used to fund scholarships for students, and to benefit Community College programs that participate in the “Touch the Future House” project.

In the 17 years the program has been in place, the outcome has been incredible.

12 houses have been completed to date, with 750 students participating.  It has also garnered the generous support of community-minded donors, who have given freely of their funds, supplies and services to make the program a winning success.

As a result, 345 “Touch the Future” scholarships have been awarded, with nearly $700,000 raised, including over $400,000 for the “Touch the Future” scholarship fund, and over $200,000 for Spokane Community College career and technical programs involved with the construction projects.

Christine Johnson, PhD., quoted above, notes such results from the Foundation’s efforts, and draws an obvious conclusion: “The Foundation’s commitment and ‘call for action’ to build the region’s talent and economic competitiveness is both inspiring and transformational.  It’s a winning investment in the future of the Inland Northwest and the entire state.”

Ewing adds: “As a Foundation, we support education for students in need that is forever life changing.  Every year we hear the testimonies from student scholarship recipients, sharing how their lives were positively impacted.  It is personally gratifying to help other people and support education which was important to my own life and career.  Those students do have an impact in our community.”

Using Education to Overcome Poverty

Samvel and Mikael Grigoryan, for example, came to the United States as refugees from Armenia in 2009.  Samvel is nearly 40, and his brother is 34.

“As a third-generation refugee,” Samvel says, “I do not want our children to suffer as my parents and grandparents did.  I believe that we are now in the right country to receive the right education…
A quick read of his scholarship application will reveal a man who has not had it easy in this world, and wants control of what turns his life will take.  He describes what he calls “a complex web of difficulties” he has had to overcome in order to achieve his goals to receive an education.  “Our family income is low, so we are constantly experiencing a shortage of recourses.  I cannot buy needed educational resources, such as internet at my home, or books for college.” In a touching note on his application, he explains to the CCS Foundation: “I seek your support.”

He does not, however, expect a handout.  He plans to give back, and to earn the support he so badly needs.

He continues: “We are ready to do everything that is possible to prosper and protect the United States.  We want to be a positive contribution to the United States, that [which] allows us to come and live here.  We are thankful to those who are helping our dreams come true.”

“I think one of the greatest achievements in medicine,” says Samvel, “is anesthesiology…The birth of our third child happened in a Spokane hospital where anesthesiologists administered an epidural to lessen the pain of childbirth.”

The experience had an impact on the direction of Samvel’s entire education.

“I was present at the birth of our baby, and I tell you that the labor without pain was fantastic.”

It was an experience that led Samvel to set goals for his education.  He plans to obtain his Associate of Arts degree in nursing at Spokane Community College.  Then, he’ll proceed to Washington State University to get his Bachelor Degree in Nursing.  But his plans don’t stop there.  “After receiving my Bachelor’s degree and fulfilling my two years’ field experience, I am planning to continue my education to become an Anesthesiologist Assistant.”

So far, Samvel’s perfect recipe of equal parts determination, humility and gratitude have served him well.  He is a participant in American Honors College, a new, competitive Honors College that is offered in partnership with select community colleges; only the very best students actually qualify.

“Its curriculum is designed to prepare students for junior and senior-level coursework at the best colleges and universities in the country,” notes the program’s official website.  “At the conclusion of the 2-year program, students will earn an Associate’s degree with Honors and will have the opportunity to apply for transfer to a top 4-year university to complete their Bachelor’s degree.”

He also received the “Touch the Future” scholarship last year, and again this year; it is the largest scholarship offered by the Community Colleges of Spokane Foundation.

Samvel’s younger brother, Mikael, is another success story in the making.  While going to school, he works part-time as a science and math tutor at Spokane Falls Community College, and as an office assistant at the Institute for Extended Learning.  Yet, he admits: “I have a family of six, and without needed occupational skills, we will always be low income and will be a burden to the community.  We deny ourselves of everything in order to buy the educational supplies we need.  There are too many difficulties that I face because of lack of funds.”

Yet, this fact has not off-set his determination.

“However, I have the goal to get an appropriate education, and that goal gives me strength to overcome all these other difficulties.”

Like his brother, Samvel, Mikael’s objective is to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing, a field where he says he has seen a significant need.

Mikael, by the way, has also excelled as a student.  He received the “Associated Industries Bright Promise” scholarship last year, and again this year.  This scholarship will pay half his college tuition for an entire year.

He and his brother have come from the mountainous regions of the South Caucasus region of Eurasia; they have fought, tooth and claw, to earn the education their grandparents no doubt wished for their parents, and that they wish for their children.  And now they are here.

“I will use my education to overcome poverty,” says Samvel.

Moving Forward with the CCS Foundation

The Community Colleges of Spokane Foundation, of course, continues to make forward progress, striving for the realization of their vision to become the premier, non-profit fundraising foundation in the region, and to become recognized nationally as a leader among community college foundations—a source for good in the community that is changing lives, one by one.

“For me,” says Tony Higley, the executive director of the CCS Foundation, “the prospect of continuing to develop resources so that CCS can ensure productive futures for our students is both challenging and exciting.  This foundation is an organization that I feel is best aligned with my desire to make a difference in the lives of local students.  It has the opportunity to more directly impact the path to education for a student who might have no other avenues of support.  A majority of CCS students are entirely dependent upon the financial support they receive from financial aid or scholarships, so a Foundation scholarship can truly make the difference between that student staying in school, or dropping out.”

Ours is a world that is spinning so fast and seemingly more out of control than ever before.  But amid the rat race, Higley finds time to define what is truly important: “For many of our students who are already struggling to find a way to pay for their education,” he concludes, “it is more important than ever that the Foundation be there to help keep people from slipping between the cracks.”

Published: September/October, Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: