Blessed are those who give…

Like every other university president, I spend countless hours raising funds for my university. People often ask me if I like doing so. I smile and reply, “I love it!” Born and brought up in a privileged family, I found asking for anything, let alone money, was difficult at first, but it became easy once I figured out that I was helping two individuals – one who has the means and wishes to make a difference and one who has the dream but needs someone to believe in her.



The connections that we, as fundraisers, make have transformational impact. No, it is not about transforming an organization. It is about transforming a life, a family and even a generation. Here is an account from Daisy, one of our students, who stood up to thank a group of donors recently.

“Hello, my name is Daisy and I am currently a sophomore at the University of Houston where I am working on a dual degree in psychology and nursing. I think we are all aware about the allegations a presidential candidate made about illegal immigrants, specifically those who come across the Mexican border. He said they brought drugs and crime. He also said, ‘I assume some are good people.’ I promise I am not going to get into politics. I just want to say that he is right… kind of!

My parents, both immigrants, represent both sides of his spectrum. My dad was the drug- dealing criminal one. My mom was the most hard-working and caring person I know. When I was in Pre-K, my dad decided to buy some property. Soon after the contract was made, he got arrested and eventually deported. So my mom was the one who had to carry that huge responsibility of fixing the property so we could live in it. She literally started from zero.

My mom raised us on her own and gave us a place to live. She was always so loving. She would wake up each morning to walk us to the bus stop, made sure we left, then walked to work. Monday through Sunday, rain or shine. Growing up with a single, immigrant parent was so hard. I mean, the struggles were so real.

I really never thought I was poor; I actually thought I was rich because we didn’t ask for much, yet we had a lot. Now that I look back, I can’t believe we survived. I know it kind of sounds like I’m just talking about my mom, but really, I can’t imagine being here without her. I always worked so hard in school to make my mom proud. They told me in high school that if I worked hard enough, others would help me pay for college.

Today, I am here to thank you personally. The amount of gratitude I feel inside can’t be expressed. I can stand here and thank you all night and it still won’t be enough. I don’t know if you all are aware of how much difference you are making in our lives.

I remember when I first met my sponsor, I felt so blessed. He told me how he put his grandchildren through college and how he was glad he had the opportunity to help someone else. I felt truly humbled that he was willing to invest his money in complete strangers just so they could have a chance at their dreams. We hear about people investing in stocks, markets, and various industries, but rarely strangers.

I remember how many things were going wrong my senior year in high school. A week before the deadline, I heard about the Rodeo Scholarship. I hadn’t done ANYTHING and there was so much mailing and paperwork to do. I remember having a hopeless feeling deep inside of me, but I then had a Bible verse in mind which states, ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ I look back and I feel silly for feeling hopeless knowing that God is always with me and everything is possible through him.

Months after my application submission, I received an email notifying me that I was the only one in my school to be awarded this scholarship. And we’ll, here I am today.

This scholarship is not a gift. It is a loan, because just like you all are making this happen for me, sometime in the near future it will be my turn to pass this loan along to someone who needs it just as much as I did. So again, thank you so much and don’t ever think that your time and efforts are pointless, because every second and even the smallest task has a great significance for people like me.”

Daisy finished her story to find that everyone was up on their feet, every eye was wet with tears of pride, and every heart was touched by her humility.

Personally, I have been at both ends of this give-and-take relationship. I still remember the day when I signed the withdrawal application and took it to my department advisor because I lacked the funds to pay tuition. (My husband was too proud to take money from my father, and no loans were available for international students). But a scholarship from Purdue University kept me in school. The bittersweet memory of that difficult time was very much on our minds as my husband and I made an endowment donation to the University of Houston to fund scholarships. As Daisy suggested, a scholarship is not a gift, it is a loan and we take great satisfaction in being able to repay it in our own way.

I am blessed to be a connector of those in need and those with means. Over the years, I have also learned that blessed are those who receive, but even more blessed are those who give!

That First Rodeo…

When I came to Houston, all I knew about the Rodeo was that it meant hats, boots, food and fun. I was thrilled to buy my first pair of Texas boots, hat and, of course, a rhinestone-studded belt. I was all set to party at my UH Night at the Rodeo reception when a petite woman with commanding voice called out, “You don’t mind eating later, do you? I need you right here for a photo with our Rodeo Scholars.” The voice was so authoritative, yet so full of affection, that I knew I had no choice but to follow her. Soon, I was on my 25th photo and still hadn’t even taken my first bite. I saw this woman commanding everyone with the same ease as she did me and I saw everyone following her with the same helplessness as I did.

Her instructions were almost mother-like. “You, with the red hat in the back, come forward.” “You, Jennifer, better be smiling at the camera.” “You sir, I cannot see you, which means that the camera cannot see you either.” No one protested against her commands and no one minded her authority. With her blind passion, she personified the real spirit of the Rodeo. She was our own Nancy Clarke.

In that one evening, I learned from Nancy that Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is not just about hats, boots, food and fun, but it is also about students, their future and their dreams. Thanks in great part to Nancy’s stewardship, the Rodeo has donated over $13 million to help nearly 1,300 University of Houston students graduate.. Each one of these graduates has stories that are enough to bring tears to anyone’s eyes…full of inspiration and hope. I know that programs like Rodeo Scholars become successful only if there is someone special to nurture them. For the University of Houston, Nancy is that very special person. She is our Rodeo Queen.

I wanted to find a photo of Nancy in my 500-plus photo file, called “Rodeo,” but failed to find a single one. That tells you something about Nancy…a person who is not in it for herself, but for the cause. Nancy and all those who are stewarding relationships for a cause , thank you. You help make this a better place!

Enjoy these photos from the Rodeo.

mail[2] (2)Rodeo Scholars 1HLSR 1 24 13 Corral Club Brenda Melgar 012 (2)Cougar Cookers 2 21 13 100Rodeo Cheerleaders