A breast cancer diagnosis in 2003 made me stop and really think about my life so far and my future. I immediately wrote my bucket list. Was I going to die? There was more I wanted to do. I wanted to leave a legacy, beyond my two sons. What had I accomplished in 50 years? What did my future hold? What did I ever do to help anyone else?
I worked at a local low-income, inner-city high school in a college-prep class for seniors. The class taught students how to take proper notes, interview and apply for colleges, among other things. But Where was the money for these kids to pay for college? I wondered about that. Soon I was obsessed with the idea of helping our students that didn’t have the financial means to obtain their college degrees. It felt great to be doing something for others, rather than worrying about my cancer following my lumpectomy and radiation treatments.
That was when I got the idea for putting together a non-profit scholarship organization. Three other teacher friends and I combined the desire to help our local kids obtain college degrees with the premise of the movie “Pay It Forward.” The Bremerton High School “Pay It Forward” Scholarship was then born in late 2007. We awarded our first scholarship of $10K in 2008.
Our organization awards one to three $14K scholarships a year to students with 2.5 – 3.5 GPAs, who are low income and often who are among the first in their family to attend college. In return, recipients agree to “Pay It Forward” by doing 60 hours of community service during their college years. This makes our scholarships help both the individual as well as the community. Our mission is to increase lifetime success through further education beyond high school.
These past ten years, I feel I’ve found my niche in life. The learning curve in running a non-profit has been steep and sometimes it’s difficult to maintain our staff and board — we are all volunteers and pay no salaries. However, since 2008 we have given over $250,000 in scholarships to 21 well-deserving BHS graduates, 11 who have graduated so far.
BHS “Pay It Forward” Scholarship has given me new skills in fundraising, volunteer management and mentoring, well as an extremely strong purpose in my life.
When my cancer returned in 2012, I felt strong, competent and able to overcome a mastectomy and chemo, because I knew I had to get back to my non-profit work.
Oh, I am far from perfect at this point. I still struggle with weight issues and my housekeeping isn’t stellar, but I can now honestly say that I feel confident and I will leave the world years from now a better place, and that makes me feel pretty good.