A Toast to Scholars: Past and Present

From its inception, Pride Foundation’s Scholarship Program has been about supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ), and ally students in achieving their full potential. That dream has guided our program for the past 21 years and remains a critical component of why we do this work today.

In the words of Pride Foundation Scholar Alum Jeff Verlanic, Pride Foundation “stood behind me, both financially and emotionally, and for the first time I felt like I was part of a larger community.”

Jeff was raised in a small town in rural Montana. Despite the challenges and homophobia he faced growing up, he decided to stay in Missoula for his undergraduate degree. He had to pay his own way through college, so the financial support Jeff received from Pride Foundation played an essential role in allowing him to pursue his education.

As the grandson of a rancher, Jeff sometimes struggled to find his place in a family “…where football is second only to talk of cattle and guns.” As is the case with so many of us, our identities are complex and interrelated. While Jeff’s father loved him unconditionally, it was not always easy for him to relate to his son’s sexual identity.

Pride Foundation invited Jeff to speak at a luncheon in Seattle while he was still an undergraduate.

“I was so excited and proud as I looked out at the room full of allies and queer families to see my father, the son of a rancher, beaming up at me,” said Jeff. “Pride Foundation undoubtedly played a part in me becoming a healthy, self-assured, queer man, who now has a close and beautiful relationship with his father.”

Since he was young, Jeff always had a passion for photography and visual storytelling. The beauty of his surroundings “…showed me the potential power of an image, forest fires taught me light could dance, and the annual snowstorms blanketed my world with silence.”

Two years ago, Jeff went to Chicago to pursue his love of story and theater by studying improv, writing, and performing. As a student at the Second City conservatory he wrote and performed a sketch review on a resident company stage. In the fall, he will move to New York to attend Tisch’s graduate film-making program at NYU, where he plans to bring characters and stories to life.

“Without Pride Foundation I would not have had the courage to move to Chicago, to create complex gay characters on stage, to have applied to NYU. Pride Foundation has helped me in making so many dreams come true, and I am truly honored to consider myself a part of this amazing organization,” Jeff reflected. “I carry this family with me everywhere I go and feel truly, deeply proud to call myself a Pride Scholar.”

Stories like Jeff’s get to the heart of why our Scholarship Program is so important. For over two decades, we have been supporting the educational dreams and aspirations of LGBTQ and straight ally students.

This year Pride Foundation awarded nearly $400,000 to 105 students in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. Scholars just like Jeff, who will go on to pursue their dreams, change our communities, and build a brighter future.

Our Scholarship Event Series ended last week—we held six events throughout the region to honor our scholars and thank our generous donors and volunteers. When reflecting on these unique community gatherings, what stood out most were the powerful and inspiring stories of our scholars. Each event was moving, emotional, and personal. Our scholars shared the obstacles they’ve overcome, their dreams for the future, and what a Pride Foundation scholarship means to them. For those who joined us—thank you for supporting our scholars and making this work possible. Click here to find a recap of the festivities and photos from the events.

Pride Foundation’s scholarship recipients come from incredibly varied personal experiences and are representative of the diversity within the community. It is an honor for us to be able to support each and every one of them (learn more about our 2014 scholars here).

We also passed a significant milestone this year, exceeding $3.5 million awarded since the program’s inception in 1993. With a total of nearly 1,400 scholarships awarded to LGBTQ and ally students in all, ours stands as one of the largest LGBTQ and allied-focused scholarship programs of its kind.

All too often LGBTQ students do not have the family, financial, and community support in place to pursue their education. With your support we’re working to change that reality, one student at a time.

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