Providence Point expands scholarship program

Providence Point scholarship winners at an assembly
Providence Point scholarship winners, from left, Daniel Keiser, Carolina Carvajal, Julia Halvas, Gage Zurcher, Randi Koenig, Tyler Smith,  Abigail Opalanko, Jesse Marks, Rachel Bayer, Yulia Davyda and Maura Woodrum.

Every semester since 2016, Providence Point has awarded a $1,000 scholarship to a dining services employee, from a fund created by residents Jan and Jeannette Smith. This year, residents formed a committee to raise the number and dollar amount of scholarships awarded, while also extending the program to all departments.

This fall, the fund was able to award $2,700 each to 10 employees.

“I said, why not expand it so that all of our employees who are eligible could go to college, no matter what department they work in?” said Allen Abbott, vice president of philanthropy for the Baptist Homes Foundation. “That would require some pretty significant fundraising, but the residents did it themselves, and they went out and raised enough money to give out these 10  scholarships.”

The residents on the committee reviewed student’s applications and eventually determined who would receive scholarships.

“After they selected the winning applicants, they said ‘How much can we give?’ and even during that meeting, people gave additional money, just so they could increase the amount of the scholarships that they each received,” Abbott said.

Abbott views the relationship between workers and residents as symbiotic, and says that many employees become “surrogate children and grandchildren” to residents.

Julia Halvas, a 2023 Mt. Lebanon graduate, received one of the scholarships. She said she was “skeptical about the job at first” but that very quickly she realized it was “where [she] belonged.”

“Providence Point has taught me many things, beyond cutting lemons and serving food,” Halvas wrote. “I have learned to be more patient and to enjoy the present, instead of constantly worrying about the future, because the truth is, time may be endless, but our lives are not.”

Halvas emphasized that Providence Point is different from other senior living facilities.

Members of the providence Point scholarship committee
Scholarship committee, from left: Mardi Jackley, Larry Jackley, Joyce Kilgore, Vera Jane Cornes, Janet Palka, and Louanne Brunenmeister.

“I feel like when people hear ‘retirement home,’ they sometimes associate it with this place where people go to die, because their families don’t care about them anymore, but not at Providence,” Halvas wrote. “There is so much life there, so much family. No one is ever given up on there, both the residents and the workers.”

Another recipient, Gage Zucher, said that the scholarship will be a “great jump start” for medical school. 

“Right now the national average (tuition) for medical school is around $250,000, so anything helps at this point,” Zucher said. “As someone who has completed so much school already, I know how much of a financial burden seeking higher education can be.”

Zucher, who recently received a master’s degree from the University of Florida, works as a resident aide “pretty exclusively” working with memory support residents. He believes that experience has prepared him for medical school.

“I really appreciate how supportive the entire Providence Point community has been to me,” Zucher said. “They’ve offered me a number of career growth opportunities, certifications, licenses, and they’re always focused on my success … I’ve personally been overwhelmed by the amount of support.”

Aside from the scholarships, Providence Point offers tuition reimbursement to qualifying employees.

“You might make an extra dollar an hour somewhere else, but how many employers are going to offer you scholarships and tuition reimbursement?” Abbott said. “Education should not be beyond the reach of good citizens who are willing to work and apply themselves academically.”

In addition to Halvas and Zucher, Rachel Bayer, Carolina Carvajal, Daniel Keiser, Randi Koenig, Jesse Marks, Abigail Opalanko, Tyler Roman, and Tyler Smith all received scholarships.

In the future, Abbott hopes for the scholarship program to expand even further.

“We’ve got about 500 to 600 employees, there are about 370 who would qualify, so why stop at 10?” Abbott said. “If we can afford to give out this amount of money to more and more employees it would make it more meaningful.”