BRISTOL — The Bristol-based Wells Mountain Foundation this month will award a combined total of $85,000 in scholarships to around 50 students worldwide. Most of the recipients have overcome personal tragedies and all have vowed to use their education to better their respective countries.
The WMF was founded in 2005 under the leadership of Tom and Carol Wells of Bristol. Its aim is to provide funding and support in the areas of education, literacy and the arts — primarily in the developing world. The non-profit provides support to individuals and families in need of assistance as a result of economic challenges, and in particular, extreme poverty.
It was around a decade ago that Tom Wells, a longtime supporter of YMCA World Service, gave out an initial scholarship of $3,000 to a young student. That led to the creation of the Wells Mountain Foundation, which in the next year gave out five scholarships. It grew from there, with student applicants needing to fit two basic criteria.
“They need to be willing to give back to their country in a significant way, and they need to be willing to stay in their country,” said Wells, noting the aim is not to have developing nations’ most promising young people leave and settle in the U.S.
Interest in WMF scholarships has exploded in recent years. The fund’s board of directors received a record-breaking 1,700 applications for what is being called the “WMF 2012 Empowerment through Education Scholarships.” Evaluators read each application completely at least once. Many had to be eliminated due to being incomplete. The top applications moved on to another round of review and elimination. Again, the top ones were selected and moved to the next round.
Carol Wells was instrumental in winnowing down the final 375 applications to a small collection of finalists. Of these, 18 new students made the cut for scholarships. The foundation also gave scholarships to students who had won in past years and where still in school.
Many worthy students did not receive scholarships due to limited funds, Carol Wells noted. Most applicants made very compelling, heart rending cases for aid.
“Some of the storie were unbelievable,” Carol Wells said, noting some applicants’ families had been decimated by civil wars in such countries as Uganda; others had been kidnapped and forced to fight in rebel armies.
“Almost all (applicants) had lost family members,” Carol Wells said.
Many of the 18 new recipients hail from Haiti, Afghanistan, Nepal and Eastern Europe.
The $85,000 in this year’s scholarship pot allows for an average award of around $2,000 for the new recipients and previous awardees still going through school. That might not seem like a lot of money by U.S. standards, but the sum goes a lot farther in the students’ home countries.
“Almost every one of the students would not be able to go to school, but for these scholarships,” Tom Wells said.
WMF organizers do an annual appeal to replenish the fund each year, sending out letters to around 250 targeted donors. Anyone interested in donating can visit the WMF Website at www.wellsmountainfoundation.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]