Owens soon decided to start helping other students in a more formal way. In 2005, she recruited a board of advisors and incorporated her non-profit. She created three $1,000 one-year scholarships: one for nursing students in honor of her mother, who is a nurse; one for children of soldiers that is named after a comrade who died in the 9-11 attack on the Pentagon; and a third for students who volunteer in their communities, which is named after her mother-in-law.
While Owens pays for most of the scholarships from her own checking account, she also tries to gather more money for students by fundraising and getting sponsors for an occasional 5-kilometer race, when she has time to train and run.
Students who've won her scholarships or receive her extra stipends say that no other scholarship donor stays so closely in touch or sets such an inspiring example. Kelly Gavin was midway through studies to become a teacher at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania in 2005 when she received a call from Owens's non-profit offering her a monthly stipend of about $50. Gavin thought it was a little weird, since most scholarships are just one-time lump sums, but quickly came to love the monthly checks. "Yes, I can go get some groceries. I can go get that book!" she'd realize every time a check arrived. "People think it is nothing, but that little bit of money helps so much," she says. The continuing E-mails were also heartening. Owens "was really sweet. She was another supporter, somebody who really cared," Gavin says. Now an elementary school teacher in Arlington, Va., Gavin tells all the student teachers she meets about the COEFI scholarships. And the power of those small checks have inspired her. As soon as she completes her master's, she plans to start donating to COEFI, she says. "It is important to give back to those who gave back to you."
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