According to Janis Ian, creator of the hit song, “At Seventeen,” everybody deserves a chance. That’s why the Grammy-award-winning singer and songwriter and her spouse, Patricia Snyder, cofounded the Nashville-based Pearl Foundation. Named after Ian’s mother, Pearl, the foundation provides scholarship funds to students who may otherwise not have the opportunity to attend college.
Pearl’s fondest dream in life was to attend college, which she did after supporting her brother and then her husband through college, raising a family and being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The day Pearl received her degree was the proudest day of her life, Ian said.
Supporting students in their higher-education endeavors has always been equally important to Ian. Initially, the Foundation provided support solely to Goddard College, Pearl’s alma mater. After learning about all that Berea has to offer and the people the College serves, Snyder expressed to Ian that they should grow their support and endow schools that are doing great work serving students who need scholarship funds. The couple learned more about Berea through their friend, singer-songwriter Billy Edd Wheeler ’55, and Bonnie Campbell ’77, who was a student of Snyder’s at the Center for Human Development in Nashville, a private experimental school in the 1970s.
“There are so many different threads that intertwine my life, Pat’s life and Berea,” Ian said.
As a result, the Foundation has been a strong supporter of Berea College and its mission for nearly 15 years.
“Berea is very much in my heart,” Ian said. “There are just so many factors that have influenced us. The fact that Berea was the first integrated college in the South was huge.”
Ian’s parents were both active in the civil rights movement, and she says Berea stands for a lot of the things in which she and Snyder believe.
The number of international students Berea serves also is of great importance to them as their Foundation receives donations from around the world. During a campus visit, they experienced firsthand the enthusiasm and gratefulness of international students with whom they engaged.
The Pearl Foundation initially raised funds through an online auction supported by Ian’s fans, as well as direct support from the couple. They have been selfless and creative in their efforts to raise Foundation funds from online auctions, sale of personal items, private concerts and even tip jars at concert events.
“I think our little foundation shows what you can do if you think outside of the box,” Ian said. “If you can spend your life in service to something bigger than yourself, you are fortunate, indeed.”