It was the perfect gift.
What better way to honor his wife, thought Michael Fuchs, than setting up a fund at the South Dakota Community Foundation to help some of the young women she cares most deeply about? “I wanted to recognize her and her passion for the Abbott House,” says Michael, who set up the Mary E. Fuchs Scholarship Fund a year ago.
Mary is the chairperson for the Abbott House Board of Directors. Located in Mitchell, Abbott House was established in 1939 as an orphanage. Over the years, the organization has transitioned into an all-girls therapeutic facility to provide services for girls ages 7 to 17 who have suffered abuse and neglect.
The scholarships, which will be given out for the first time in 2020, will help young women who have lived at the house and want to pursue post-secondary education after they turn 18. The scholarship is also open to young men who have lived in the two Abbott House therapeutic foster homes in Rapid City. This program is called Bridges by Abbott House, and it is currently undergoing plans for expansion.
“The Department of Social Services came to us and asked if we could add therapeutic foster care homes for boys West River, and so we are,” Mary says. A capital campaign was recently kicked off in the Black Hills to build two additional homes and two independent living apartments for both boys and girls.
The Mary E. Fuchs scholarship fund will support the Abbott House youth who age out of the system at 18 and no longer have a support system. “For many, the state says, ‘Well, you’re an adult now… have a good life,’” Mary says. “But higher education is out of their reach. We hope to make it attainable.”
Through their fund, students will be able to apply for a scholarship for college, a technical school, or formal training for a job, Michael says. “Most kids would have a mom or a dad to help, but they just don’t have the structure there,” he says.
Through the Abbott House, some of the students can live in independent living apartments from the time they are 18 until they are 23. When they turn 23, if they have followed the rules and left the apartment in good shape, they receive all their rent back to use where most needed, often for a damage deposit at their next apartment or other living expenses. “It helps to give them a leg up,” Mary says.
Supporting kids has been Mary and Michael’s intention for years. Along with raising three kids, the couple has fostered 48 children in their home. “Foster care is near and dear to our hearts,” Mary says, and it is in line with our belief that philanthropy sometimes is less about money and more about time.
Michael agrees. “I grew up in a family with practically nothing, but we still grew up with generosity, knowing that you just help others,” he says. “You have to give within your means. Don’t look at what somebody else is giving. Just give from your heart.”
SDCF has helped them do just that, he adds. The couple were founding members and Mike serves as vice chairman of the Huron Community Foundation, an affiliate of SDCF. “We know their success and I know their management skills,” he says, “so it made sense to open our fund with South Dakota Community Foundation.”
Setting up the scholarship fund was not their first foray into philanthropy. Mike was instrumental in South Dakota Dental Foundation’s formation two decades ago. He is also a charter member of the American Association of Orthodontists Foundation.
“This is about giving back in the different ways we can,” Michael says. “Life is not all just take. You look at yourself and realize life is short and you want to give back.”
Mary has high hopes for the young men and women who will benefit from their giving. “We just want to help them reach their goals and dreams and remind them that their past does not need to determine their future,” she says. “If you heard some of their stories, it would break your heart.”
Philanthropy, Michael adds, creates a path for people who are less fortunate to find success and they hope their scholarship fund provides a way for as many young people as possible. “South Dakota will always be strengthened as a state if those young adults who lack hope due to inadequate finances for further education are given a helping hand,” he says. “It is our hope that many young adults will be able to become strong, contributing members of society. If they then find success in life, South Dakota will be the beneficiary.”