05 Apr AJC: Senior residents fund college for caregivers and their families
Jose Pliego always wanted to continue his education past high school, but he needed help to take the next step.
Don Sapit, a resident at senior living Park Springs Life Plan Community in Stone Mountain where Pliego works as maintenance manager, helped make it happen.
Sapit encouraged Pliego to apply for a Park Springs Foundation Scholarship offered to employees and families. The Foundation is a nonprofit funded by volunteer contributions from residents.
Sapit went a step further. He helped Pliego find online classes to boost his college admission chances. Passing an academic entrance exam had always been the hurdle over which he couldn’t climb.
“He saw potential in me, but I didn’t see it,” said Pliego, who refers to Sapit as his mentor and godfather/grandfather.
With Sapit’s guidance, Pliego enrolled in Atlanta Technical College and graduated in electrical technology in May of 2020. It was all paid for through the Park Springs Foundation Scholarship fund. Pliego is still working toward his apprenticeship and state license.
“It was a great opportunity. I’m more than grateful to Mr. Sapit and the scholarship program. I really have no words for it; I get sentimental,” Pliego said. “Having come from first-generation immigrants, it’s great. You not only make your parents proud but also give your nieces and the next generation someone to look up to. It feels great.”
The Park Springs Foundation began in 2009 as a charitable outlet for residents, and they decided to use it for scholarships. Funds will pay up to $3,000 for tuition and $550 for books per semester, paid directly to the college, with a maximum yearly payout of $10,500 per scholar.
During the 2020-2021 school year, the Foundation gave $66,672 in scholarships.
Foundation president Pat Shea explains the generosity: “We’re helping our employees pursue a dream. Their success is our success.”
Resident Ross Lenhart said it this way: “It’s an expression of our gratitude.”
“We’re all in this together,” he said. “We’re senior citizens, and we need a lot of help from our employees – whether it be waiting on tables or cleaning up our apartments. We get to know them, and we care about them.”
Applicants must be employed with Park Springs for at least one year before receiving the scholarship for themselves, a child, or a spouse. Scholarships only apply to not-for-profit private or public institutions, and applicants also have to apply for a Federal Pell Grant to offset costs.
Each scholar is matched with a resident as a mentor to help with the application process and whatever else is needed.
Park Springs Life Plan Community has about 500 residents living in various levels of care and a staff of 350. Barbara Cooper said fellow residents value education, and many have the means to help others. Cooper oversees the scholarships as a Foundation board member. She said the most common major is nursing, as many staff members use it to continue their education.
Cooper said the board doesn’t monitor grades or require a particular course of study.
Len hart, a former college admissions officer, is working with technical colleges to have dedicated admission professionals work with potential scholars and help them know what is available to them. He said this help is needed because many have been out of school for a while.
Juliet Baka re, a certified nursing assistant and medical assistant at Park Springs, was thrilled to know the Foundation could assist with the educational expenses for her and her daughter.
Daughter Kemi Bakare, a University of Georgia pre-med student majoring in microbiology, said the $3,000 tuition and $500 for books each semester are a big help. “It took a lot of worries away,” she said.
As long as her mother remains employed with Park Springs, Kemi Bakare can keep applying for scholarship funds while in medical school. She said the residents have been very encouraging throughout her college career, especially during the pandemic.
Juliet Baka re is also receiving a scholarship for her studies in health information management technology. She will graduate in May from Georgia Piedmont Technical College.
The Foundation helps all who apply, and to Juliet Barkare, that is most remarkable. “They make sure everybody gets something. To me, that is huge,” she said.
WHAT INSPIRES ABOUT PARK SPRINGS FOUNDATION SCHOLARSHIP
2021-2022 scholars are predominately studying nursing and health management. Other programs of study include computer science, early childhood
development, history and microbiology.
Scholarships provide up to $3,000 toward tuition and up to $500 toward books per semester for three semesters each year – fall, spring and summer – for those working toward academic degrees, skill development or certification at any not-for-profit private or public college, university or technical school.