When someone reaches a certain success level, it’s generally expected that he or she give back. Often, one finds or starts a charity to which there is a personal connection. In the case of comic and WMJI radio personality Jimmy Malone, the cause found him.
“I didn’t set out to do this. I set out to donate some money one time until I could figure out what I wanted to do. In a way, I think the charity found me,” Malone says. "If I had written a check and never heard from the kids, that probably would’ve been the last check.”
But after that first donation, Malone heard back. “They got in touch with me and said ‘Until we got this money, we didn’t have money for textbooks.’” He realized he could make a real difference.
The Malone Scholarship was officially started in 1993 by Malone and his wife, April. It awards eligible students with financial assistance for college. The key is eligibility. Each recipient must be Pell Grant eligible, be accepted into an accredited college and have a positive attitude.
Potential scholarship recipients come through College Now Greater Cleveland or LEAF (Lake/Geauga Educational Assistance Foundation), which both help students of Cuyahoga and Lake counties get a chance to continue their education beyond high school. Along with meeting the academic requirements, the kids also submit a written essay to apply. Once the kids are vetted, Malone reviews the potential candidates and has a one-on-one with each.
The Malone Scholarship also requires the choice of college or university to be an affordable one. A school that puts a student $10,000 in debt is preferable to one that leaves a $200,000 burden. This requirement doesn’t necessarily limit the options to only inexpensive schools, though. It also depends on what else has been offered to the student. One of Malone’s students this year will be going to Barnard, which costs around $65,000 per year. But Barnard already awarded her $58,000 in scholarships.
Funding for the scholarship comes from the support of individuals and businesses in the Cleveland area, most notably Westfield Insurance, the biggest contributor. The biggest yearly fundraiser is the Malone Scholarship Golf Classic held annually at the Westfield Group Country Club. Attendees have an opportunity to meet the students who are helped by their contributions.
When it began, people assumed that The Malone Scholarship was a minority scholarship, but it welcomes kids of all races, genders, orientations and backgrounds. In fact, a large percentage of its recipients come from the suburbs, where it is presumed that the kids are better off. But Malone’s experience suggests otherwise, shedding light on a whole spectrum of disadvantages for many kids.
“Of the 55 students who are getting my scholarship this year, only four or five live with both parents. Some kids are completely on their own, some live with grandparents or an aunt or uncle,” Malone says. “They’re all working, not only for their own tuition but they're contributing to the electric bill or the rent.”
In spite of that reality, the students overcome incredible obstacles, but not alone. An essential component of The Malone Scholarship is mentoring. The program nurtures a close relationship and support network between the students, adult mentors, sponsors of the scholarship and Malone himself. There is interest in their lives, with a strong big brother/big sister element that carries them the whole way. Not only are they getting vital financial assistance, they’re getting someone in their corner who cares for them. As one of the students put it, “It’s really nice to know that someone is proud of you.”
Malone remains consistently impressed and deeply touched by the work ethic, determination and positive attitude of these kids against the backdrop of their respective situations. While The Malone Scholarship has changed the lives of its beneficiaries, it has also transformed the life and outlook of its founder.
“My whole perception of kids changed from seeing them as lazy bums to being just blown away by how hard-working they are and how much they overcome," Malone says, adding that the pride he feels by witnessing the lives of these kids blossom and flourish is palpable. “At the end of this, a kid has graduated from college and is hopefully on his or her way to contributing to society.”
As of this year, The Malone Scholarship has helped close to 200 students, who boast a graduation rate of 80 to 85 percent. That's a happy ending indeed.
To make a contribution or to get more information about The Malone Scholarship, visit jimmymalone.com.