Elizabeth McDowell’s dream of giving back to FGCU in a way that meaningfully impacts students affected by the scourge of substance abuse is now a reality. She and her husband, Jeff, established the Eagles for Recovery Scholarship, which was awarded for the first time this year.The $1,000-a-year scholarship is open to anyone whose life has been directly affected by drug and alcohol addiction.
Substance abuse has had an intensely personal impact on the Orlando-area native’s life. She’s endured the devastation of losing her older sister, Maria, to multiple drug intoxication in 2011. That led their younger brother to seek assistance in getting sober.
McDowell’s brother found help at the Justin’s Place Recovery Program at St. Matthew’s House in Naples while she attended FGCU. That, in turn, led her to volunteer with the Justin’s Place women’s program for several semesters, starting in 2013, as part of the university’s service-learning requirement.
“Through that experience I felt called to start working in the addiction treatment field,” she said. “Also, I’ve had my own personal journey in recovery, as have multiple family members. And my husband has lost two brothers to addiction, so we just have really big hearts and a passion for addiction treatment.
That’s why I wanted to create a scholarship, but not just for students in recovery. The scholarship is also open to students who’ve lost a loved one to an overdose or maybe their parents are in recovery or still struggling with addiction.” McDowell (‘14, Sociology) cited a second motivator for starting the Eagles for Recovery Scholarship: the thrill of having been a scholarship recipient herself while at FGCU. One was from the Sanibel Captiva Trust Company. Another was the 2013 President Wilson G. and Jo Anna Bradshaw Scholarship.
“I was able to attend the President’s Scholarship Luncheon and meet my sponsors and donors,” she said. “It was just a really incredible experience. It was always on my heart that when I got to a place where I could create a scholarship, I wanted to. This year marks 10 years since my sister passed and 10 years of my own personal journey in recovery. It was just really meaningful for me to be able to come back and to establish a scholarship and bring hope to others. I’m just really excited.”
After graduation, McDowell and her husband moved to Columbia, South Carolina, for five years for his job. While there, she earned an MBA from Columbia International University. For the last eight years, she’s worked in the addiction-and-recovery fields, in South Carolina and Florida, where she’s a state certified recovery support specialist and a certified recovery residence administrator.
The couple recently moved back to this area, with her husband becoming the new senior director for the men’s program at Justin’s Place, which is where they first met. The couple has two children, 3-year-old daughter Faylee, and 1-year-old son Perrin. Liz McDowell currently is exploring employment opportunities. The McDowells donated $5,000 to create the scholarship. “Moving forward, I would love to give more,” said McDowell. “Right now, with a young family and working in social services, we aren’t financially able to do more, but that is our hope and goal for the future.”
She’s also hoping that the scholarship will eventually become endowed, which requires a minimum donation of $25,000, and which will mean it will continue on in perpetuity. McDowell became emotional when discussing what it means to achieve her goal of creating Eagles for Recovery. “It really, really brings a lot of gratitude to come full circle from being a student, receiving scholarships, really my whole journey, and to attend the scholarship luncheon and to meet my donors.”
To learn more about Eagles for Recovery and other ways to contribute, visit the FGCU Foundation website or call 239)-590-1067.