Ann Wells knows why she has spent the past 17 years working with School Choice Scholarships.Â All it takes to remind her is a mother to approach her and say how her childâ€™s life has been changed by education â€“ the lessons learned, the new friends made and the lavish attention from teachers.
â€œA mother came up to me last year at the graduation party,â€ recalls Wells. â€œAt the end of the party…she came up to me with her hand out and she said â€˜I just want to thank you.â€™ She said, â€˜I had problems with drugsâ€¦I got my three boys into scholarships, and itâ€™s made such a difference in our lives.â€™ And she said â€˜Iâ€™m graduating from Bellarmine next year.â€™â€
â€œThatâ€™s the kind of story that keeps you going. Weâ€™ve had children from Southeast Asia, from Africa, from Somalia. And children from the west end and the south end…You know, weâ€™ve had every child. Children from every part of the world, it seems like, that weâ€™ve helped. And the stories and what a difference itâ€™s made in their lives â€“ theyâ€™re living the American dream.â€
School Choice Scholarship was founded in 1998 by Wells, alongside locals Baylor Landrum, Jim Patterson, George Fischer and Phil Moffett. The goal was to raise money each year for education scholarships for children up to eighth grade with the aim of giving parents and guardians the choice as to which school their children could attend. In fact, since its inception, more than 5,000 children from low-income families have received scholarships totaling more than $7 million, with $700,000 raised last year alone. Today, Wells and Moffett still sit on the board, with Wells returning to chair it once more.
For Wells, the organization has been a chance to give to low-income members of the community something she herself was lucky enough to receive â€“ a private education.
Wells recalls switching from a public school with 50 children in her class to a private school with 30. â€œI became a good math student, and I think I may have been lost in a larger class. There are so many lost children who donâ€™t finish their education.â€
Two years ago, School Choice Scholarships had 174 children on scholarship, and the numbers have continued to grow. This August, there will be 345 students on scholarships at 51 different schools, and the goal is to keep on growing, improving and finding more opportunities. In Wells, there seems to be an endless drive to accomplish this, to get bigger and better.
One person who counts on Wellsâ€™ invaluable input and experience is executive director of School Choice Scholarships, Heather Huddleston. For Huddleston, Wellsâ€™ mix of drive and passion for the past 17 years is the reason so much money has been raised and so many children have been given the chance to receive a top-notch education.
â€œ[Ann] is incredibly passionate about these kids, and cares so much about them, and listening to her talk about them is incredibly inspiring,â€ explains Huddleston. â€œHer enthusiasm for this work is contagious. Thanks to Ann and the other founders and board members, thousands of childrenâ€™s lives have been changed through education…Ann is at the heart of everything this organization has done for 17 years.Â It would not be thriving and growing today without her.â€
Adds renowned Louisville businessman Jim Patterson, co-founder of the School Choice Scholarships: â€œWorking with Ann to start School Choice Scholarships and then to build it to where it is today has been a fulfillment of a lifelong goal. Ann is enthusiastic, dedicated and generous with her time and money, and itâ€™s wonderful to be able to work with her. Itâ€™s remarkable that she is our board chair again this year, 17 years into this work. Her excitement about School Choice has been unwavering.â€
As for Wells herself, sheâ€™s showing no signs of slowing down, hoping that she can keep going as long as she can make a difference.
â€œIâ€™m never going to run for office; thatâ€™s not my thing,â€ laughs Wells. â€œSo I figured I can change this world one child at a time, and this world needs changing. I guess thatâ€™s the way I feel â€“ that I can change one child at a time, and that keeps me going. I have done it for 17 years now and hope I can do it for another 17 years.â€ VT
For more information on School Choice Scholarships visit schoolchoiceky.org