Students pursuing degrees in health fields that focus on older people are receiving assistance from a foundation that once offered that help itself but is now passing the torch to a new generation of caregivers. Shady Rest Foundation is the entity that oversees the funds from the sale of a facility run by Lee County to care for low-income seniors. The county eventually turned the care center over to a non-profit corporation and, years later, sold the facility and the land on which it sat near Page Field in south Fort Myers.
Today, the officers of Shady Rest Foundation have chosen to use the money from the sale, in part, to fund scholarships for students who plan to go into healthcare for older adults. The $3 million donation the group has made will go a long way toward assisting FGCU students in the pursuit of that goal with the creation of two endowments. This most recent gift builds upon last year’s generosity of $1 million for current support of these students.
Jo Stecher, Ph.D., R.N., who is vice chair of the foundation board and a former FGCU nursing professor who taught gerontology, among other things, sees a critical need. “These scholarships can get students into the workforce in a more timely manner,” she said. “It serves the community and helps students who prefer to work with older adults. It also helps them complete their schooling with less debt.”
Another factor is that students enrolled in the Marieb College of Health & Human Services attend classes and clinicals virtually full time and are preparing for both when they aren’t in one or the other.
“There’s no time for them to hold down jobs while they are in school,” Stecher said.
Senior nursing student Valeria Cardona knows this situation well.
“Nursing is a very demanding major,” she said. “In order to have a high academic performance, I am unable to work full time. I am very thankful for this foundation and its scholarship because it empowers students to keep working hard toward their academic goals and because it inspires me to give back to my community. The words ‘thank you’ fall short to describe how grateful I am. I would not be able to continue my studies at this time if it were not for the generosity of the Shady Rest Foundation.”
The tuition scholarships are awarded to both undergraduate and graduate students, which makes them unique as there are no other such awards for graduate students seeking to work with older adults.
Not only that, it doubles the number of scholarships available for graduate students at the university, according to Dolly Farrell, senior director of Development.
“I am honored to be one of the recipients of the Shady Rest Scholarship,” said Sabreen Yousef, a graduate student pursuing her master’s degree as a physician assistant. “I am the first in my family to seek higher education, and it’s generous donations like these that are helping my dream of becoming a physician assistant become a reality.
“My family and I were impacted financially by COVID-19, and this has helped take one more burden off of my shoulders so that I may put all my focus into my studies. I am one step closer thanks to the Shady Rest Scholarship and will continue to stay committed to my education and the healthcare field.”
Brandon Butry, who is pursuing his doctoral degree in physical therapy, feels much the same way.
“This scholarship has had a tremendous impact on allowing me to fully focus on school without the stress of adding a full-time job into my busy schedule,” Butry said. “I have more time to put towards my studies and engulfing myself in what it takes to be a great physical therapist. I can’t thank the foundation enough for awarding me with this prestigious scholarship and I am extremely grateful for the impact it has made on my life.”
Given the shortage of nurses and other medical staff the nation is now experiencing because of COVID, these scholarships become even more significant.
“This gift would be welcome at any time, but is especially meaningful now when hospitals and senior care facilities all badly need well-qualified nurses and other trained healthcare professionals,” said Shawn Felton, Ed.D., interim dean of Marieb College. “FGCU prides itself on working to meet the needs of our community and the Shady Rest Foundation’s generous gift will certainly help us do that.”
Bob Murray, Shady Rest board chair, said “when we first sold the facility and put the money into the foundation, we wanted to give back. It took us a couple of years to figure out what we wanted to do.” He credits Stecher with making connections that made it possible to create the scholarships.
“I think this is the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s very heartwarming. I’m very happy that we could do this.”