Coyner and Donna Smith know the importance of helping someone achieve a college education.
The Smiths helped a young woman, who not only has done well, but has become an inspiration.
Now, they’re ready to help more people — including those from the Fremont area — through Lutheran Family Services.
LFS recently announced that it’s received a $3 million gift to establish the Coyner and Donna Smith Diversity Scholarship Fund.
The fund is designed to provide a college education for graduating high school seniors from low-income, minority families who are residents of Nebraska.
$25,000 scholarships will be awarded toward funding their college education regardless of where they have been accepted.
Once they’ve received the scholarship, students must maintain a 3.4 grade point average or higher to renew their scholarship each year.
“The purpose of the Coyner and Donna Smith Diversity Scholarship Fund is to help fulfill the college aspirations of graduating seniors across the state of Nebraska who face barriers or specific challenges accessing higher education because of their socio-economic determinants, ethnicity or race,” said Sharon Brodkey, LFS director of public relations.
Brodkey points out the importance of the scholarships for area residents.
“When we make post high school education attainable for these students from Fremont as well as all Nebraska communities, we can make progress toward breaking cycles of poverty that disadvantage entire families for generations,” Brodkey told the Tribune. “The outcomes are good for individuals and families in Fremont and across the state.”
The application process is being launched this fall to coincide with the college admissions cycle for the 2021-22 academic year.
A selection committee plans to fund at least five students in the first year.
Students interested in trade or vocational schools also are eligible to apply.
Trade school applicants will receive $12,500 or half of the $25,000 grant, renewable for two years.
The Smiths, who live in Omaha, became familiar with LFS’ work with refugees when they met a single mom from Afghanistan living in Omaha with her daughter.
After the mom was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, the Smiths became legal guardians to her daughter.
Coyner describes her as “this amazing person and unusual student who never would have had the opportunities if somebody could not help her. She’s now in her last year of law school Georgetown University after finishing in the top 10% of her class at UNL.”
He commends the young woman.
“She was our inspiration,” he said. “So, we’ve been doing things to support refugees because it looks to me like there are a lot of people in the same situation — from low income and minority families who have academic abilities and great potential.”
Mark Versen, LFS chief development officer, expressed gratitude for the Coyners.
“It is not every day you get to make a philanthropic dream come true to this magnitude,” Versen said. “LFS is grateful to partner with the Smiths to give the same opportunity to high school graduates and their families across the state.”
In a prepared statement, Coyner said they’re excited to see the scholarship program grow.
They’d like to increase the number of recipients to 10 to 20 per year until the program sunsets.
“We really feel good about doing this. We don’t have too much longer to live, and we can leave something behind. We hope it is not unique to us,” he said.
Smith added that they “want to inspire other people to know the fund is open to others who wish to contribute. We made it open-ended and put it in our will so it can be sustained after we are gone.”
They have made arrangements for another $1 million to be added to the scholarship fund upon their passing.
The Smiths have become the single largest donor to Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska since making their home in Omaha.
Stacy Martin, LFS president and chief executive officer, expressed appreciation for the Coyners.
“Since their first interaction with LFS, Coyner and Donna have immersed themselves in action and philanthropy, helping us care for people who are vulnerable and marginalized in our communities,” Martin said. “This gift helps many young people overcome obstacles that stand in the way of getting an education to help them break their families’ cycles of poverty. We are honored and excited to help make the Smiths’ vision a reality and fulfill the college dreams of Nebraska’s high school graduates.”
For more information or to apply for the Coyner and Donna Smith Diversity Scholarship Fund, please contact Megan McDowell, LFS statewide scholarship manager, at email@example.com or 701-715-2340.
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