A scholarship has allowed Lauren Toney to pursue a career in dental hygiene. (Photo by Harry Washington)
Winners of the nearly 200 scholarships offered each year by the Thomas Nelson Educational Foundation reap immediate rewards. What often is missed are the long-term effects of those scholarships.
Stephanie Green is hoping her leadership degree leads to a job with the City of Hampton, working for a program that features inclusivity. Lauren Toney’s goal is to be a dental hygienist. Veronica Thomas wants to be a business manager at a doctor’s office.
All three are pursuing fields that give back to the community and help others, meaning the effects of the scholarships they were awarded will last well beyond any graduation date.
“Scholarships don’t just allow people to go to college, they also help give a future to students like me so that I can take the skills and education that I have received at Thomas Nelson into my community and better the lives of others around me,” Toney said. “It is a ripple effect that all students should have the opportunity to experience at least once.”
Here’s a closer look at Green, Toney and Thomas.
Green is a non-traditional student, having started her college journey at Old Dominion University in the early 1990s, about 10 years after graduating from high school. After prodding from family and friends, she enrolled at Thomas Nelson in 2014, taking one or two classes a semester. She finally graduated with an associate degree in social science in 2021, and is back at ODU and on pace to graduate from there in December of this year. Her degree will be a bachelor’s in leadership, the same program she started at ODU nearly 30 years ago.
“Everyone at Thomas Nelson helped me graduate,” she said, mentioning her teachers as well as the donors responsible for the Bridge the Gap scholarship, which has been instrumental in her success. “Without you (Thomas Nelson and Bridge the Gap), we couldn’t do this.”
She is retired, for the time being, and on a limited budget. Her scholarship made the difference. She credits everyone in the financial aid department and disability support services, because she wasn’t aware of all that was available.
“There are so many people that help you through,” she said. “They always say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a village to help a student get their degree. It’s a lot of people involved.”
Earning her degree after overcoming so many obstacles and challenges has given her a most positive outlook on life. When she graduates from ODU, she wants to pursue a job that allows her to help others, just as so many have helped her.
“That was my main thing,” she said.
When Toney enrolled at Thomas Nelson in fall 2019, a few months after graduating from Warwick High School, she wasn’t sure what to pursue.
“I chose to go to TNCC as a way to explore different classes while I figured out where my life needed to go,” she said.
The dental hygiene program caught her attention, and after doing research and some shadowing at a dental office, she found her profession.
“Oral health goes beyond the mouth and affects the entire body systemically, so being able to help others in this way is very rewarding,” said Toney, who was a recipient of the James and Virginia Taylor Nursing and Dental Hygiene scholarship.
She earned her associate degree in social science in August 2021, and was accepted into the College’s dental hygiene class of 2023.
“Scholarships have allowed me to go to school for the two years leading up to the dental hygiene program, and they are even more important now that I have to spend a lot more on my education,” she said. “It is so amazing to have donors that want to help ease these financial burdens from me while I get my degree.”
Another non-traditional student, Thomas began attending Thomas Nelson at the age of 50. However, that was interrupted after two years by family obligations. She resumed the journey at age 55, and will graduate in May with an associate degree in administrative support technology (on the medical side).
She received the Neall Family Charitable Foundation scholarship from the College, and as a veteran was eligible for a Dominion Energy Fellowship. Her original plan was to take one class at a time, but the two scholarships changed that.
“When both scholarships became available, it allowed me to go fulltime, and concentrate strictly on school,” she said. “It was just a blessing that I could do nothing but school and community service work.”
Volunteer work is important to her. She helps, or has helped, at the Thomas Nelson food pantry, as a concierge at the Newport News/Williamsburg airport, and at a local nursing home.
She chose to pursue a career in the medical field because she likes caring for people.
“You can always care for someone in the medical field,” she said. “You can always care for someone in a nursing home.”
Green, Toney and Thomas have chosen careers where they will care for others, just as others cared for them through scholarships.