After narrowly surviving a battle with cancer in his teenage years, Ty Eschenbaum was motivated to recognize others who lost some of their formative years to cancer. In 2011, the 23-year-old Eschenbaum established the Ty Eschenbaum Foundation, a Lake Poinsett, South Dakota-based nonprofit offering scholarships to graduating seniors in South Dakota who beat cancer.

Eschenbaum was diagnosed at 15-years-old and spent much of his high school career in hospitals. “I saw a lot of kids a lot less fortunate than me,” Eschenbaum recalls. “Through the whole ordeal, I just wanted to make a difference. I felt like I was lucky—blessed, actually, with the opportunity to still be here. I’m just trying to make the most of it.”

Eschenbaum’s cancer went into remission during his senior year of high school, and five years later he was pronounced cancer-free, which he remains to this day. But many of the kids Eschenbaum shared hospital stays with over the years weren’t so lucky. He has never forgotten those people, or their families. “It made me think about how I was given a second chance, and how I should probably play this hand fairly well,” Eschenbaum says.

With the help of the South Dakota Community Foundation, family, and friends, in 2011 Eschenbaum was able to give out two $250 scholarships to cancer survivors graduating from his hometown high school. He’s given out three $1,000 scholarships to cancer survivors in South Dakota in the years since. He dreams of eventually offering one $1,000 scholarship to every high school senior in South Dakota who fought and beat cancer of any form.

You don’t have to be LeBron James or Tim Tebow to make a difference. South Dakota Community Foundation makes philanthropy accessible to anyone.

— Ty Eschenbaum

The Ty Eschenbaum Foundation has a way to go before its founder’s dream of providing scholarships to every teenage cancer survivor becomes a reality, but things are moving in the right direction—and quickly. Eschenbaum says significant donations from family members and friends have expanded his foundation’s funding pool. And more donations mean that more and bigger scholarships will be able to be awarded.

“When I give out my scholarships I say I hope they appreciate the money to help them pay for school,” Eschenbaum says, “but more importantly, know that this is me personally saying to you that I understand what you went through, that it is a big deal, and that I’m proud of you. That all of South Dakota is.”