Teacher Loren Smith realized so much potential in her elementary school students who were immigrants that she made a promise to them -- and to herself: “Work hard, stay in school and I will pay your way to go to college.”

Through an 18-year partnership with Seattle Foundation, Smith has converted her promise into rewards by creating a scholarship fund that has benefited well over 130 students.

“These kids are so incredibly deserving,” Smith says. “Even at a young age, they realize they have to work twice as hard because they lack English proficiency. They show tremendous dedication and perseverance to learn the language and also do well in school. These are the students that teachers dream of having in their classroom.”

Yet due to financial constraints and family obligations, advancing to college for these students is often not a possibility. “These are highly capable students who have so much to contribute to society,” says Smith. Her scholarship is one of the few available to English Language Learner (ELL) students.

Smith grew up in Chicago in an intellectually stimulating family environment where education was highly valued. She went on to become a teacher. Inspired at how the immigrant children in her classes demonstrated an eagerness and enthusiasm to learn, she became certified as an ELL teacher in Seattle.

After her mother died in 1998 and left her an inheritance, Smith partnered with Seattle Foundation to set up a scholarship fund in her mother’s name for the 20 young students to whom she had made her promise. A handful of Smith’s former students eventually benefited from the Nora Stone Smith Scholarship, but the fund’s promise was not being fully realized until Smith, at the encouragement of Seattle Foundation, extended the scholarship’s reach to any ELL student in Washington state.

“Seattle Foundation has helped me fine-tune the scholarship to be my vision of what I want it to be,” Smith says. “I love working with the staff because they’ve been so responsive to my ideas for making the application process more accessible to students with limited English proficiency. They have also helped widely promote the scholarship, so we now have students from throughout Washington applying.”

Each winter, the applications roll in. No matter how many she reads, Smith cannot help but be moved by what the young scholars write. Many are refugees who recount the challenges and tragedies they faced before ever arriving in this country. Almost all express a desire to apply what they will learn in college to improve the health of their communities.

It was at a Seattle Foundation’s scholarship award event where Smith met some of the scholarship winners in person. She says she found it “incredibly emotional and rewarding.”

Each year only a few percentage of those who applied are awarded the scholarship. The need simply outweighs the resource, which is why Smith continually is looking for more funding. “My only regret,” she says, “is that I can’t fund them all.”

Smith's scholarship is one of nearly 50 scholarships Seattle Foundation managed to create equity and opportunity for students needing financial assistance.

Learn more about scholarship funds at Seattle Foundation.