Organizations: Jeannette Rankin Foundation
“How do you raise people up so that they can earn a living for themselves and provide for their families? How do you intervene so that the next generation is not stuck … without hope, just barely getting by?”
These are questions Sue Law-rence asks herself every day as executive director of the Jeannette Rankin Foundation, an Athens-based nonprofit that provides scholarships to low-income women over the age of 35.
Most recipients are struggling to balance work with raising children and have overcome enormous obstacles to attain their educational goals. Of those who receive a scholarship, 58 percent are the first in their family to attend college. Other than age, gender and income level, requirements are few: Applicants must be enrolled in or accepted to an accredited school and pursuing a technical or vocational education or an associate’s or first bachelor’s degree.
The foundation, named after a proponent of women’s rights and the first woman elected to Congress in 1916, has been awarding scholarships since 1976. It awarded 80 scholarships nationwide this year, but hopes to increase that number through a $13 million campaign and profits from a new book out this fall, Daring to Dream.
Lawrence’s own mother obtained her nursing degree while Lawrence was a child, and she still remembers waking up in the middle of the night to find her mother bent over the desk studying.
“I understood what it was like for someone who has a family to try to balance everything – family responsibilities, going to school, and work – all at the same time.”
The nonprofit’s mission affects more than just the women it helps. Ultimately, it’s the next generation that benefits from the scholarships it provides.
“It brings hope. By helping the adult woman, it helps to cause a generational change,” Lawrence says. “The women themselves are role models for the importance of education for their children. If they see how hard their mother is working while she is supporting them and how important it is to her, they’re more likely to try themselves, to see that it can be done.”
Although there are many scholarship resources for high school students heading to college, fewer resources exist for the nontraditional student. That makes the foundation awards even more meaningful.
“They felt that they were affirmed in their goals. Someone who doesn’t even know them has the confidence to award them money and to tell them, ‘We believe in you, we believe in your goals. We know you can do it,’” Lawrence says. “We are helping that change to come about. One woman and one family at a time.” – Christy Simo