Two nonprofit groups in Northwest Arkansas have merged into one organization that should be better positioned to distribute more scholarship dollars to its recipients.
Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Northwest Arkansas (SPSFNWA) and Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Benton County (SPSFBC) — both independent 501(c)(3) groups that award money for college each year to single parents — now operate as SPSFNWA. The merger took effect on July 1.
“I am excited about this merger because it is a win-win for everyone,” said Tyler Clark, executive director of SPSFNWA for the past four years and CEO of the new organization. “The intentionality we took to craft the best possible program and services for our current recipients and future applicants is going to be the most important part of this project. When we can serve more single-parent families and do it effectively and efficiently, that motivates me and makes me excited.”
The scholarship fund’s origin goes back almost 40 years. Co-founders Marjorie Marugg-Wolfe and Ralph Nesson worked with various volunteers and donors to start scholarship funds in Benton County and Washington County in 1984. Their inspiration was to help reduce unexpected expenses that could deter single parents from pursuing the education they needed to escape poverty. It awarded seven $150 scholarships in Benton County in its inaugural semester and eight $300 scholarships in Washington County in its first semester.
Their work paved the way for the Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund, launched in 1990, and the program spread to nearly every Arkansas county.
In 2009, the scholarship funds of Carroll, Madison and Washington counties merged to become SPSFNWA.
Clark said there are many reasons to create a new regional nonprofit, although the bottom line is twofold: eliminate confusion and serve more recipients.
Since 1984, the two nonprofits have served 20,160 recipients and distributed $15.3 million to single-parent families in the four-county region. According to online descriptions, donations from civic groups, churches, individuals, and grants from the Walton Family Foundation, the Walmart Foundation and United Way fund scholarships. The fund also receives endowment revenue and various other foundation grants. No government funds are involved.
Last year, the two groups combined to award nearly $900,000 — 55% of that amount in Benton County — to more than 300 recipients for traditional degrees, healthcare and vocational education and professional certifications.
Clark said the two organizations coming together create $11 million in endowed scholarships and long-term investments. He believes the new nonprofit could serve up to 20% more recipients within the first year.
Clark and Jack Eaton, executive director with SPSFBC, were both given the opportunity to interview for the new organization’s CEO position with equal representation from both boards of directors and a human resources consultant to guide the process.
Eaton will continue to volunteer with the new organization, which has 12 full-time employees — six from each affiliate.
Twenty people will comprise the new organization’s board of directors — 10 from each affiliate. Shelle Summers, vice chairwoman of the SPSFBC board, is the board chairwoman. Randy Werner, vice chairman of the SPSFNWA board, is the vice chairman.
“We’re bringing the best resources to the table,” said Summers, senior vice president of leadership services at the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. “Not just scholarships, but more importantly, personal connections for counseling, emotional support, referrals to other agencies and assistance from a group of individuals who genuinely want to help.
“I became involved in SPSF[BC] because after working at a community college where I experienced first-hand what a huge difference an education can make in the lives of single parents and their families. By providing holistic assistance to recipients, we can significantly impact their futures, as well as make a positive economic impact on Northwest Arkansas.”