Nancy Timmons and Carol Carter are changing lives one student at a time. Photo by Erik Holladay.

It’s a fact not many people know: The Community Foundation has been involved with creating and administering Scholarship Funds for almost 60 years. The earliest fund in its records dates back to 1954, when the S. Rudolph Light Medical Education Loan Fund for medical students was established with a $1,500 donation.

In the years since, the fund has been formally changed to a scholarship, with eligibility expanded to include dental students and graduate nursing students.

Today, the Community Foundation administers 53 active Scholarship Funds, with approximately $1.1 million in scholarships and grants awarded annually to Kalamazoo and Van Buren County students of all ages. Within those big numbers is the reality that every scholarship affects an individual’s life, often opening doors to a future that person could only dream about. It’s a complex job to run a scholarship program of this size.

The team behind the dreams

The team members responsible for administering the Community Foundation’s scholarship program are Carol Carter and Nancy Timmons. They have years of experience and complementary skills that serve the program well. Carter, a donor relations officer with a background in elementary education, began her work with the scholarship program in 1993. Timmons, began working with the scholarship program in 2001, with previous experience in banking and a law office.

"Part of my job is to work with potential donors to establish scholarships that are meaningful to them and relevant to today’s vocational or college-bound students," explains Carter. "Once the scholarships are established, I monitor the fund balances to assure there are adequate dollars for the annual awards. I stay current with government regulations to assure that our scholarships meet all legal requirements.

"I also facilitate our volunteer scholarship advisory committees," she continues. "More than 100 volunteers serve, and we value them and their time highly.

"Finally, along with other staff, I’m involved in a partnership with the Kalamazoo Area College Access Network," Carter says. "We’re trying to make college affordable for as many students in the area as possible. We’re especially proud that our website has become the central access site for information about scholarships sponsored by school districts and other local organizations."

Meanwhile, Timmons has her hands full with the nitty-gritty of running the program. "I’m responsible for all of the scholarship application processes," she says. "This includes everything from administering our website information and handling the online scholarship applications to screening for eligibility, preparing materials for our scholarship advisory committees, sending notifications to our scholarship recipients, and assuring that payments and checks are handled correctly."

Timmons also spends a significant amount of time with people. "I work directly with students and their families to ensure all of the required information for their scholarship is complete," she explains. "And I maintain close relationships with the area’s high school counselors."

In addition to their other responsibilities, both Timmons and Carter go on the road every year to promote the scholarship program by making presentations at the Community Foundation’s Kalamazoo Area Financial Aid Night, area high schools and other organizations.

Challenges and blessings

The Community Foundation does not establish "cookie cutter" Scholarship Funds; each one has its own purpose and eligibility criteria. This customized approach is both a blessing and challenge to Carter and Timmons. "We process more than 1,200 applications annually," Timmons explains. "Having a pool of unique scholarships definitely keeps our work interesting, but we then have to be sure all of the applicants and recipients meet the eligibility criteria."

But, according to Timmons and Carter, challenges like these are far outweighed by the joy they experience in their work. "We can see the difference these funds make in people’s lives," Carter says. "For example, one of our larger Scholarship Funds was established by four local women’s organizations in 1994. They formed a coalition and raised more than $1 million to establish the Women’s Education Coalition Fund for adult women with financial need who are seeking training or a degree to better support their families. To meet the needs of the recipients, the award can be used for more than the usual costs associated with higher education, including childcare, and there is a unique emergency grant component in the fund."

"In the long run, it’s all about people," Timmons states. "It’s about the recipients and the donors and what is best for everyone. We try to make sure every step is personal. We do all of this on a large scale, but ultimately it’s about each individual whose life is changed by the generosity of a donor who established a Scholarship Fund."