Awards from Calmes Scholarship Fund help students in ALS families

Grants given to 53 for post-high school education in 2023-2024

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by Mary Chapman |

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Having a family member with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can strain household finances as well as the emotions of caregivers and other relatives. To help relieve some of that financial burden, the Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund was established four years ago to support post-high school education for U.S. students whose lives have been affected by the progressive neurodegenerative disorder.

The ALS Association, along with board member Mark Calmes, created the fund in 2019 to honor Calmes’ wife, Jane, who fought the disease for eight years. She died in 2017 from ALS complications.

Since its inception, the ALS scholarship fund has awarded nearly $2 million in aid to about 350 students throughout the U.S. who are seeking an accredited college degree or vocational certificate.

The aim of the scholarship fund is to help mitigate the financial toll ALS can have on families — such as their ability to plan for future expenses. According to the nonprofit, families affected by the disease often lack the resources to support the pursuit of college or vocational educations.

“Families lose a lot of financial wherewithal because of this disease,” Calmes said in an ALS Association blog post. “That causes a lot of families to lose the financial ability to send their kids on to postsecondary school, whether that’s college or vocational school. The positive side is that we are fulfilling that unmet need.”

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The goal of the Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund is to support as many students annually as possible, with grants of $2,500 per semester or $5,000 per year. For the 2023-2024 school year, the fund has awarded $265,000 in scholarships to 53 students. Among the recipients this year:

  • Lauren, a Calmes scholarship recipient for four years, is pursuing an architecture degree at Arizona State University with the fund’s support. Her late uncle Jeff, who lived with ALS, also attended the school  from which Lauren is expected to graduate magna cum laude next spring. “The generous financial support … has allowed me to only need to work part-time which has made it possible for me to participate in extracurricular activities with my school, church, family and friends,” Lauren stated in the association’s blog post.
  • Sara, whose father was diagnosed with ALS when she was a high school senior, will use her scholarship funds toward a public health degree at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. After that, Sara plans to attend medical school. “Public health is near and dear to my heart as someone who wants to not only treat people who are already sick, but help individuals, communities, and populations lead healthier lives and prevent disease,” she said, adding, “The best thing this scholarship has given me is the ability to spend more time with my dad during my time off from school, rather than working to pay for college.”
  • Haleigh credits the scholarship monies for facilitating her transfer to the University of Texas at Austin, where she plans to study biochemistry and potentially conduct ALS research. Her father was diagnosed with the disorder during the pandemic and died two years ago, just before she started college. “ALS changed my life forever,” she said. She added: “The psychological toll this condition has is unprecedented. All I want to do is save others from having to go through the turmoil of this condition.”
  • Kimberley had to temporarily leave college to help care for her mother, who died last year, upon her ALS diagnosis. She since has returned to the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she studies cybersecurity. “Taking a break from my education to care for my mother over a span of two years was a challenging decision, and I was apprehensive about the financial implications of returning to college,” she said, adding, “This scholarship not only acknowledges my journey, but also grants me the opportunity to pursue my academic aspirations without the weight of financial worries.”
  • Paddy, whose father died 1.5 years ago, 12 years after his ALS diagnosis, is using his scholarship to supporting a major in mechanical engineering at Michigan State University. “Growing up I always drew towards seeing problems and trying to find solutions,” he said, adding, “My family has a long history of having engineers, including my dad, so I have gained a lot of support and experience through asking questions and seeing what my family members do.”
  • Audrey will use her scholarship funds to study nursing at the University of Louisville. Her mother, grandfather, aunt, and uncle all were diagnosed with the progressive disease. “This scholarship allows me to put my full focus towards my learning,” she said, “therefore I will ultimately be successful in my college education and career.” Audrey added: “Even when it seems impossible, there is a way to find hope and peace in the midst of sorrow and struggle. Find something positive and hold on to it, it makes a huge difference!”

For scholarship fund consideration, each applicant must demonstrate financial need and be a high school senior or graduate, or a current postsecondary undergraduate or vocational student. An eligible applicant also must be a U.S. citizen attending a school in the country. For the upcoming academic year, students must plan to enroll for a minimum of six credits per semester in undergraduate study at an accredited two- or four-year college, university, or vocational-technical school.