Udoni Family Makes Historic Gift to Support S2C Scholars
How often do you get a chance to make history? Opportunities to pave the way for local students to achieve their dreams are not everyday occurrences. For one Stevenson High School family, helping students who sat in the same classrooms as their own children became a mission.
"Enhancing educational opportunities for the next generation offers the highest return on investment we could think of, and what better place to invest than Stevenson," said Matt Udoni.
Longtime Lincolnshire residents Matt and Christine Udoni have celebrated as two of their children, Paul and Makala, graduated from SHS; and they look forward to their youngest, Nick, graduating in 2021. Having helped their own children to pursue college careers, they decided they were also in a position to assist Stevenson students who were at risk of not pursuing higher education to enjoy all the advantages that a college degree offers.
"Stevenson has afforded our children educational preparation better than we could have ever hoped for and, along the way, helped shape them to be better people. In the end, it was an easy decision to target our gift to the Stevenson Foundation, and specifically to the Stevenson to College program, as the mission of the Foundation addresses key aspects of education we value most -- providing students a support network to realize their educational dreams and a foundation for longer-term success," explained Matt.
At an event hosted by friends Liz and Ted Brandt, Christine and Matt first learned of the Foundation, the Stevenson to College (S2C) program, and how S2C supports students who are first-generation-to-college, facing financial hardship, or from an underrepresented college population, earn their college degrees. After the event, Christine's thoughts were two-fold: "First, I didn't realize just how many students needed this type of program. I knew there were some families in our district that weren't as fortunate financially as us, but I didn't realize the extent of the need. My second thought was - how can I help?"
"We made a small donation at the Brandt's event," said Matt, "but it always stuck with us that if we were to do something meaningful, this program would be worthy of consideration."
Over the next year, the couple learned more about the unique challenges S2C Scholars face and how the program supports students as they persevere in their college journeys. As they saw the successes that scholars were achieving against the odds, Christine and Matt were compelled to have a more significant impact. They wanted to support the Foundation and students in their own community and encourage others to do the same, so they seized the opportunity in a bold way!
The Udoni family made the largest gift in Foundation history, with a donation of more than $150,000 in support of the S2C program. In addition to supporting all S2C Scholars through mentoring, workshops, and college and financial aid application efforts, the gift creates two annual scholarships, also the largest in Foundation history. Each year for the next three years, two $7,500 Udoni Family Scholarships will be awarded to selected S2C Scholars.
"Not only is it an honor for us to support such deserving Stevenson students, but we are also really impressed with everything S2C does to prepare students and their families for the college journey," Christine said. "Being able to support both students and the S2C program's efforts to ensure their success is extremely rewarding."
There are now 38 S2C Scholars in total, and for the first time since the program launched in 2014, scholar classes span every academic level from juniors at Stevenson through college seniors. Students from the first class of S2C Scholars will graduate from college next year. Of the 40 Stevenson students who were referred to the program this year, however, resources were available to support only 11 SHS juniors, who make up the newest class of S2C Scholars.
"We appreciate there is significant need for capital to support the growing demand," said Matt, "[and we will] have clear vision on the impact of our gift. Thus, S2C was a perfect fit for us."
The Udoni family's historic gift will open doors for S2C Scholars who, like their SHS peers, dream of pursuing higher education. Additional support from dedicated community members like Matt and Christine is crucial to helping many more deserving Stevenson students reach for a bright future.
"Our hope is that our donation will challenge others in the Lincolnshire and surrounding communities to think about how they too can make a difference...and be bold in their giving," said Matt. "As is often said, by enhancing educational opportunities, the world changes one student at a time. The S2C program is one that, over time, will change the world -- at least the world for those students supported by the program, and that's good enough for us. Hopefully, other families think similarly and will follow our lead to support the Stevenson Foundation."
For more information about the S2C program, visit StevensonFoundation.org/S2C or contact Linda Knapp at 847-415-4147 or LKnapp@D125.org.