Posted on: March 5, 2021 Posted by: Deana Elhit Comments: 0

By Deana Elhit, Staff Writer

It started when Nikki Payson met a nursing student who was in the Army working as a field medic. He told her that he needed to retake classes for certification in order to work as a civilian, but he was given a limited amount of time to complete his classes before the funding ran out from the Veterans Administration.

Payson, who works as server administrator for network operations at Moraine, remembers feeling floored in that moment, and realized she needed to do something to help. Payson’s son-in-law, who is a former Marine, confirmed the limitations placed on veteran students.

“They basically give up a portion of their life to serve our country, and the least we can do is make sure that they get an education when they come out if there’s something they want to do,” Payson said.

So she founded the Thank You Veterans Scholarship at Moraine Valley in 2017. The scholarship is strictly for veterans, helping them pay for books, transportation, tuition, rent, or whatever help they may need to continue their path. 

Payson, who went to Moraine Valley as a student, had received a faculty scholarship to help with the cost of her books.

“I was so overwhelmed with that generosity that I knew if I ever had the opportunity in the future, I would pay it forward,” she said. She has worked at Moraine Valley for the past 23 years. 

 They basically give up a portion of their life to serve our country and the least we can do is make sure that they get an education when they come out if there’s something they want to do.”

Nikki Payson

She wanted to create a scholarship specifically benefitting veterans and went on a search to find a veteran student to help. Kristy McGreal, Executive Director of the Moraine Foundation, and Patti Friend, Director of Alumni and Annual Programs, helped start the scholarship.

Each year, the number of recipients continues to increase, Payson said, due to help from other people on campus who have chosen to make their Employee Giving Campaign donations to the scholarship.

Within the first year after it was established, the scholarship was awarded. Payson and her husband met the first recipient, a former Marine, at the scholarship banquet.

“His story literally brought me to tears,” she said.

When the Marine was discharged, he felt lost, said Payson. He began to visit everyone who had been in his unit. One family took him in and encouraged him to start his life again, and soon after, he began attending Moraine Valley. 

Payson remembers how grateful he was for the scholarship. She began asking around campus if others were interested in applying for the scholarship. At the same time, she asked herself how she could raise additional money because, she thought, “there’s got to be more like him in our student population.”

In the end, enough was raised to support ten $500 scholarships. 

These are our neighbors, friends, sons and daughters. They’re a part of our community and we should help them.”

Nikki Payson

“I’m pretty stoked about that,” she said.

Payson had contributed some money on her own and had asked everyone in her IT department, along with other faculty and staff.

“They have been outstanding coming forth and putting money towards it,” she commented. “The thing about it is, because we are a community college, these are our neighbors, friends, sons and daughters. They’re a part of our community and we should help them.”

Payson wants to send a big thank-you to veterans and tell them to keep up the good work.

“We all in this country should be so grateful that we have young men and women that are willing to sign up and basically sign a big blank check that would include if they had to give their life,” Payson said. “We enjoy a wonderful life here with freedom. That’s how it started, it should be our thank you to them.”

According to the Moraine Valley Foundation’s website, “This $500 to $1,000 scholarship will be distributed annually divided between the fall and spring semesters to five students who are U.S. veterans for any branch of the military and received an honorable discharge.”

To be awarded the scholarship, you must be a U.S. citizen, have a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher, have demonstrated financial need and be studying at least part-time during the semester that the scholarship is awarded.

Applications are due by March 31.

The Thank You Veterans scholarship is now one of three available to veterans at Moraine. The others are the Orland Palos VFW Scholarship of Excellence and the Edward Walter McCormack Memorial Scholarship.

“All three of these veteran scholarships can be applied to in one application,” Friend says, “so veterans would not only qualify for the VET scholarships but could qualify for others, too.”

The computer sorts through the applications automatically and sends students’ applications to each scholarship they qualify for, “so you could have dozens that you apply to with one application form,” Friend says.

She encourages students to go to the web page and click on the big red box that says “APPLY NOW.” They will see a long list of scholarships, but they do not have to apply for them separately. Within the application, they can write or paste an essay about why they feel they deserve the scholarship.

“This is the most important part and the chance to make yourself shine above other applicants,” Friend says.