by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am

By Ray Paulick

“I have to say 'no' to 500 families each year, and it breaks my heart,” says Elisabeth Jensen, president and executive director of the Race for Education scholarship program. “I hate saying 'no.'”

Jensen is hoping she can say “yes” to an increasing number of deserving and needy students in years to come as the college scholarship program created in 2002 continues to grow and gain support from individuals and businesses from within the equine industry. So far, the Race for Education has provided $2.5 million in scholarship funds to more than 200 students in 40 states across the U.S. Its selection committee recently approved 70 new students as recipients.

Race for Education scholarships are available to sons and daughters of equine industry employees or students seeking careers in the horse business. Eligibility is limited to children of parents whose combined annual income is $50,000 or less. Jensen said over a five-year period the average combined annual income of parents of a scholarship recipient was about $27,000.

The program offers more than just scholarship funds. It also provides advice and training to help students minimize their education debt load, mentoring services and references or referrals for permanent jobs upon graduation.

 In conjunction with the American Association of Equine Practitioners Foundation and Platinum Performance, the “Winner's Circle Scholarship Program” supports one veterinary student at each of the 30 vet schools across the country to help offset the burdensome costs associated with obtaining a degree leading to a career as an equine practitioner. There are other scholarships designated for students in specific states or with defined career interests. 

Click here for information on those scholarship programs.

All administrative and staffing costs are paid for through a private donor, meaning that 100% of the money contributed to the Race for Education goes toward scholarships.

Sixty-seven Race for Education students will graduate from college this spring, adding to the 89 graduates from previous years. Among them is Joseph Miller, one of four students to receive Race for Education Funds the first year they were awarded in 2003. The University of Louisville equine business school graduate works for Lincoln Collins' Kern Thoroughbreds in Midway, Ky., and he recently was named to the Race for Education's board of directors.

The board is chaired by Team Valor International's Barry Irwin, who was instrumental in the organization's first major fund-raiser in 2003 when he secured the rights from Gary Barber, a Team Valor partner and movie producer, for the world premiere of the “Seabiscuit” movie. The premiere, at Louisville's Palace Theater, helped raise nearly $100,000 for the Race for Education.

Irwin also is one about 35 Thoroughbred owners participating in the Racehorse Nomination Program, which donates a minimum of 1% of a racehorse's purse earnings to the program. Team Valor donates 1%, and Irwin matches that from personal funds. 

(Click here to see how you can be part of the Racehorse Nomination Program.)

Irwin was among the volunteers and students who brought their paintbrushes to help redecorate the Race for Education offices in December when they were relocated to 1818 Versailles Road in Lexington, in a historic building purchased by Bill and Susan Casner. Bill and Corinne Heiligbrodt sponsored the office's conference room, and donations from Carl and Wanda Nafzger, David Ingordo and Chris Young helped furnish the offices.

The program began when Jensen was working at Kentucky's WinStar Farm and co-owners Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt, who have provided financial backing to many other charitable causes, challenged her to create something meaningful and lasting to benefit people in the industry. A horse-loving native of Indiana who graduated from New York's Fashion Institute of Technology and later worked in Burbank, Calif., as a brand manager for Disney, Jensen took the idea of creating the Race for Education to several organizations and received a positive response.

The program was launched in 2002. It took on even greater significance for co-founders Bill and Susan Casner when their daughter, Karri, died in a terrorist attack in Bali later that year. A 5K/10K run held in Karri's memory each autumn has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Race for Education. WinStar is also one of the owners participating in the Racehorse Nomination Program, so the scholarship fund got a big boost last month when Well Armed won the $6-million Dubai World Cup. Two percent of the winnings were donated to the program.

However, as Jensen said, for every deserving student that receives scholarship money from the Race for Education, there are many more who have to be turned down because of a lack of funds. Matching dollars from the federal government have helped, but the program can only grow through greater participation of the many charitable people in our industry.

It is a great investment in our future.  Click here to see how you can help.

Copyright © 2009, The Paulick Report

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