Donor Spotlight: The Learning Seed Foundation Scholarship
Marsha and Merritt Long, the force behind a scholarship advancing education for students of color and students who’ve faced significant challenges.
Marsha and Merritt Long were both blessed to have parents who stressed that education is the key to a good life. With scholarships, loans, and support from their parents, both completed college and graduate school, and, as their parents predicted, went on to a good life that included becoming executive directors of major state agencies.
As they approached retirement, they thought carefully about how to help others get the college education that opened the doors to success for them. They shared a particular concern for students of color and students who’ve faced significant challenges in their families – kids who may not have been straight A students or sports stars, but who may have worked part time, helped care for siblings, or had parents with physical or mental disabilities.
Out of this concern, the Learning Seed was born in 2001. Merritt and Marsha began new, volunteer careers as fundraisers and advocates for students.
They drew initial generous support from former Governors Locke and Gregoire, their spouses, Congressman Denny Heck, former Evergreen State College President Les Purce, and former Saint Martin’s University President John Ishii, and many, many others.
Today, the Learning Seed has awarded nearly half a million dollars in scholarships to 103 students. Eighty-nine percent have been students of color; 67 percent are from Thurston County and 33 percent are from Pierce County. While many scholarships are only for the first year, Learning Seed scholarships are renewable. “We believe that if the financial need existed for the first year, there’s probably a need throughout the students’ program,” Marsha says.
About 80 percent of scholarships are awarded to students who are the first in their families to attend college. “What we didn’t anticipate was the impact of these scholarships not just on the students, but on their whole families,” says Merritt. “When one person goes to college, it can inspire a new direction for their siblings, their cousins, and sometimes even a parent.”
Some of the Learning Seeds’ alumni are also giving back to those who helped them succeed. One early scholarship recipient and college graduate now manages the Learning Seed Foundation’s Facebook page, and produces its brochures.
The Learning Seed’s assets have been with the Community Foundation since its inception in 2001, when friends suggested that the Longs meet with Colleen Gillespie, then the Foundation’s Executive Director.