Unsung Hero Scholarship Fund helping kids overcome challenges and thrive

Pay It Forward
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ATHENS, Ala. (WHNT) - Many children are blessed with both parents and a supportive home. Because of that, they thrive! But not every child is that fortunate and those obstacles can cause them to struggle in school and life. Maybe it's the death of a parent, an illness, or having to work full time. WHNT NEWS 19 Pays it Forward to Jan Matthews, a woman who's making sure those kids are celebrated and not left behind.

Proverbs 22:6 reads:

"Train up a child in the way he should go. And when he is old, he will not depart from it."

Matthews is putting that passage into action. One day, she says a divine idea came to her.

"I was getting ready to turn on Rideout Road and it was like 'bing'", says Matthews, creator of the Unsung Hero Scholarship Fund. "It's time to go get the kids like you and honor them."

Kids like her meaning they have potential, but not necessarily all the resources.

"I wanted to do a lot of things, but I didn't have the means," explains Matthews. "I didn't have the people around to foster it."

Matthews also honors those young people by offering mentors, exposure in the Athens/Limestone County community and awarding the Unsung Hero Scholarships. The effort started small.

"My husband and I took our vacation money, $1,500, and we did the first scholarship," describes Matthews. "That's how we did it and we just kept going. People started asking questions about it and it kind of grew from there."

Now, they've helped dozens of kids, like Howard Petty, who overcame the challenges of foster care.

"After I got the scholarship, she's always followed up with me and messaged me saying 'How are your classes going? How is school going? Is there anything you need?'" says Petty. "I'm just glad that I have someone that's a supporter of my education and I'm really thankful for her being in my life."

Trey Gilbert received the scholarship in 2015 and is the first to graduate high school in his immediate family.

"I didn't know what the community was," says Gilbert. "I thought it was one street, Walmart and the playground. But getting out in the community and really understanding the needs of the community, it opened my eyes a lot and opened my perspective a lot."

Both young men are in college now and thriving. To ensure others have that same opportunity, WHNT NEWS 19 paid it forward with $319.

"That's a scholarship!" shouted Matthews. "Yay! Thank y'all so much!"

It's donations, and the idea of creating more success stories, that motivates Matthews.

The Unsung Hero Scholarship Fund has helped over 120 high school seniors. The school counselors identify students that fit the criteria and need that extra support. Learn more about the organization.

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