The West Shore Community College Foundation recently received a $200,000 gift to support students in its nursing program. In accordance with the anonymous donor’s wishes, half the gift will be allocated to an endowed academic scholarship and the remainder to an endowed fund to assist students experiencing financial hardship or an emergency while enrolled in the program.
The gift will be invested to ensure ongoing financial aid for LPN and RN students. “The donation will leave a lifelong impact on the school,” said Ashley Page Smith ‘19, who received her associate of nursing degree on May 3. “I know people who would make really good nurses, but they just can’t afford it. I’m really excited to see them able to go to school and not have anything hold them back.”
A longtime visitor to the Wellness Center in the college’s Recreation Center, the donor is familiar with the college’s emphasis on health and physical fitness. “I’ve been going for several years now to hopefully improve my health and live longer,” he said. “Any time the college does something that involves bringing families together and exercise, I contribute to it.”
When he learned of an upcoming 5K fundraiser being organized by nursing students, he planned to contribute to that as well. Eager to learn more, he arranged a meeting with the event organizers – Glynnda Balowski ’19, Megan Bushor ’19, and Smith. “When we first met with him, he was interested in why we were raising money for the nursing program and what we needed,” said Bushor.
The three related stories of those who have considered going into the nursing program but who found it economically impossible. Proceeds from the 5K, they explained, would go toward immediate needs such as gas cards and lodging for students attending clinicals at hospitals in Muskegon, Manistee and Fremont. Students’ expenses include not only tuition and books, they told him, but uniforms, stethoscopes and other equipment, and the costs of unforeseen illness or car trouble.
As he listened, he reflected on his experiences with and appreciation for quality health professionals. “I started thinking about times I’ve been in the hospital,” he said, “I said to myself, gosh, I’ve had a fair amount of contact with nurses. I thought this would be a good thing to donate to.”
Not only did he offer a substantial gift toward a scholarship fund, he doubled it. “If somebody has to pay for heat or something and they don’t have the funds, this will help them so they don’t have to drop out,” he said.
“The young ladies touched his heart and he generously responded to that,” said Shelly Boes, director of the nursing program.
He named the three to a committee that will work with college leadership in allocating the funds. “I was impressed with these three students,” he said. “They went through the program and did well, and they want to help other students. I thought, let’s have them be involved if they want to be once this is established.”
Balowski, Bushor and Smith will meet annually to review scholarship applications. “We want to look at all applicants and make sure that everybody has a fair shot,” said Bushor. “It’s not always about book smarts – it’s character and motivation, too. We want (the scholarships) to go to people who really want to go to nursing school but wouldn’t have the means. This donor is going to change their lives.”
Approximately 40 students make up the program each year, and the average age is 27. “They have families and living expenses,” explained Boes. “Scholarships that will help them with tuition are hugely appreciated.”
Some students travel from as far away as Traverse City, Grand Rapids and Reed City, and the emergency portion of the gift will help them, as well. “Students may need help just to get to class,” said Balowski. “I would hate for someone to drop out because of a monetary situation that we can help with.”
The gift will have far-ranging impact.
“This is super important,” said Bushor. “We all know people who don’t have the funds to go to nursing school who would be the best nurses. This donation will give people the opportunity to go to school and make that choice to be a nurse.”
The local area will benefit, as well. Many graduates of the West Shore nursing program contribute their skills and alleviate the nursing shortage at local health care facilities. “Because they are older, they have families and they’re rooted in the community already, so they stay,” said Boes.
And the donor will enjoy watching his gift help others to achieve their goals. “I think it’s making me more happy than the person that’s benefitting from it,” he said. “My wife and I are fortunate to have these funds that we can do this with.”
“I’m so proud of those students,” said Boes. “They really made the difference. This will be a huge help for students who really need it. Sometimes students are just a flat tire away from dropping out.”