OLD LYME — At 44, Lesley Phaneuf decided it was time to return to school.
“Sometimes you go through your life and you do things to get by and then you think, what do I really want to try doing for the rest of my life,” Phaneuf said.
In her case, Phaneuf, who has worked the last few years as an emergency medical technician, decided she really wanted to pursue a career as a radiology technician, beginning with the radiology program at Middlesex Community College. She will be the first in her family to attend college.
“It would open up a lot of opportunities for me. I could work outpatient, in the hospital, or even in the operating room,” Phaneuf said. “I’ve just done this or that before now and I was thinking about what will help me to really provide for my family.”
But higher education — even community college — is expensive and with two children and a just-recently-built house, Phaneuf was in search of any opportunities available for financial aid.
“I grew up in Old Lyme and I knew about the MacCurdy scholarship just from hearing about it around town and while I was in school, but I always thought about that for someone who is just graduating from high school and I wondered if I could apply,” Phaneuf said.
Phaneuf did apply, and this June became the first non-traditional student honored with a MacCurdy-Salisbury Educational Foundation Scholarship.
“We’d never had an adult apply before, but it says nothing about age in the scholarship requirements, so we thought, why not?” said Mary Seidner, director of the Lymes’ Youth Services Bureau and vice president of the MacCurdy-Salisbury Educational Foundation.
This fall, 26 recent graduates of Lyme-Old Lyme Schools and two non-traditional students, including Phaneuf, will be heading off to school, in part funded by $104,300 in scholarship money from the MacCurdy-Salisbury Foundation. Each student receives between $1,000 and $7,000 based on financial need.
“The amount each student receives is determined by our financial consultant. He takes into account the cost of college, how much the student is getting from the college and the calculated estimated family contribution,” Seidner said. “Nobody on the foundation is privy to any financial information of applicants, we do not want anyone in town to feel uncomfortable.”
The foundation will provide $346,200 to 106 individuals during the 2019-2020 school year to support four years of college. Unlike many other scholarships, each year of undergraduate education is supported for each recipient living in Lyme or Old Lyme and maintaining a 2.0 grade point average.
“Thanks to our many donors and the good work of our investment committee, the foundation has been able to distribute close to $3 million to our local students over the past eleven years. We are fortunate to live in such unique communities that are committed to supporting education,” said Rowland Ballek, the president of the foundation for the past 18 years and a member since 1970.
The MacCurdy-Salisbury Educational Foundation was established in 1893 by Evelyn MacCurdy-Salisbury in the hopes of building a high school for the towns of Lyme and Old Lyme.
“It never happened in her lifetime and when she died the money was there and the board of directors didn’t know what to do with it,” Ballek said. “In 1918 the first grant of $100 was given to two ladies from Old Lyme to go to Connecticut College.”
For Ballek, continuing the legacy that MacCurdy-Salisbury left behind is extremely important.
“I’ve been very interested in education and it is very important for me and my family. It is the secret to success in our country. The more informed you are, the better decisions you will make,” Ballek said. “We are lucky to have such generous people in our town that feel the same way about education.”
Despite the fundraising efforts of the foundation and the generosity of many donors, scholarships have not kept pace with the increasing costs of a college education.
“We used to have students that wrote to us saying the MacCurdy scholarship covered one-third of their college expenses, today that is more like one-tenth,” Seidner said. “To talk about college cost starting with the number seven is crazy. The cost of college is really astounding, the system is broken.”
But “every little bit helps,” said Phaneuf, who is receiving $1000 toward her costs.