Throughout its existence, alumni of Berea College have expressed their gratitude for the gift of education they received by donating back to the institution.  Motivated by the desire to ensure another deserving student will have the same opportunities they have been afforded, they have been an essential element in preserving the mission of the college.  In recent years, some students have been motivated to start giving long before graduation. The group, called the Berea Patrons, shows their gratitude to the college by making, and encouraging their peers to make, donations of at least $5 a year. Many of them even register to give $1-20 of their paycheck each pay period. The goal for the group is to raise $5,000 per year.  This is enough to pay off the remaining cost of two student tuitions after endowment monies have been applied. In 2013-2014, the Berea Patrons surpassed their goal, having raised $6,181 from students.

The Berea Patrons program began as informal gatherings of students who wanted to ‘give back’ to Berea. Many were members of the Student Alumni Council and were quite aware of Berea’s financial needs. “It was a student initiative,” says Candis Arthur, ’11, “and it really got started when students started to become very passionate about this project.” With the support of faculty, staff, and administration, Berea Patrons moved forward as an initiative with Candis as one of the early advisors. Candis was brought in because she had been working with the Young Alumni giving club, “it was an obvious connection to my work, educating students about how Berea’s funding operates.  Says Candis, “Student philanthropy was exciting to me because it was an obvious connection to alumni giving, to educate the students while they are here.” Through Berea Patrons, she hopes that student philanthropy will blossom into alumni giving, to ensure the future of Berea and to keep this institution, which transforms so many lives, up and running.

This group is now guided by new staff member Lisa Colletti-Jones in Alumni Relations, and it is her aim to increase the awareness of the “funding gap” and just how much Berea College is kept afloat by the gifts of alumni, friends, and now students. Lisa is the advisor of the Student Alumni Council, campus group responsible for making student-alumni connections, especially relating to the funding of our college. She helps the Berea Patrons leadership team market to the student body, creating events to garner interest in the group’s purpose. She says, “We are currently planning for a booth at Mountain Day and an October 30th kick-off event. We hope to raise $5,000 dollars this year and to have 400 student donors.  In the next 3-5 years I would love to see 50-60% of the student body giving gifts from their labor earnings.”

Because Berea students pay no tuition, their education depends heavily on endowment income and Berea Fund gifts. This year, our endowment will pay 73% of annual operating costs. Berea Fund gifts help cover the remainder. Gifts of all sizes are critical in raising the $4,350,000 needed for the Berea Fund this year.  Every gift that supports the Berea Fund supports all that Berea is and does. Items supported include full-tuition scholarships, faculty salaries, theater costumes, and scientific lab equipment, which are all essential for the learning process. Because of this, Candis explains, Berea Patrons’ purpose is threefold: “to educate the students about Berea’s funding, to learn the importance and value of giving back, and to be aware and thankful of the many donors, alumni, friends, and students, who make it possible for students to be here.”

Berea Patron student leader, Cory Payton, ’15, talks about his reason for giving: “I serve as part of the Student Alumni Council because I feel it is important to give back to the place that has given me so much.” Berea Patron Iliana Lomeli, ’16, spoke about her connection with this group and its deep importance to her life mission:

Even though I have little, I can give what I can for the future of others. A little grain of sand can go a long way, this is my grain of sand that will aid in paving the future for people like myself who show academic promise but do not necessarily have the means to receive a higher education.

It is because of Berea’s kindness and far reaching vision that students are inspired to reciprocate, in whatever way that they can, to keep this college alive. Every member of the Berea Patrons program looks forward to expanding this group and its influence in the future, and hopes that their contributions will grow into a pillar of support for Berea’s mission.

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