Matthew Johnson encourages his sixth-grade students to be “lifelong givers. Looks like his California class is off to an impressive start.
The students, who attend Alice G. Mulcahy Middle School in Tulare, Calif., were inspired by the story of Hattiesburg, Miss., washerwoman Oseola McCarty, who left the vast majority of her life savings to The University of Southern Mississippi for the establishment of a perpetual scholarship.
The class’ decision to donate a $40 cash prize -- won as part of a school-wide fundraising effort – to the McCarty Scholarship Fund prompted contributions from others within the school. The result was a check for $135 sent to Southern Miss earmarked for the McCarty Scholarship.
“Well, inspiration has a way of being contagious,” said Johnson. “First, I was inspired by my students’ desire to give. Then, my principal and our school librarian decided to give. That, in turn, compelled me to want to give more than I had originally pledged to give.”
Johnson’s class of 35 students learned about McCarty’s generosity from a reading anthology that included her biography during the week of Dec. 9-13. “They were simply amazed by her story, and they wanted to know more about the scholarship fund,” said Johnson.
In 1995 it was announced that McCarty, who never attended college, intended to leave approximately $150,000 of her savings to Southern Miss. The money would provide scholarships to students who could not otherwise afford a college education. Today, the market value of the Oseola McCarty Endowed Scholarship Fund totals nearly $745,000.
Forty-four students have received McCarty Scholarships with more than $370,000 awarded since the scholarship’s inception. There is a residence hall on the Hattiesburg campus of Southern Miss named for McCarty, who died in 1999. The USM Foundation also renamed its planned giving society the McCarty Legacy in honor of its most well-known planned gift benefactor.
Shannon Fleming, executive director of the USM Foundation, noted the significance of the gift from almost 20 years ago and the one made just last December.
“When Ms. McCarty’s planned gift was announced in 1995, it literally made international news,” said Fleming. “It was an incredible story of generosity, and I am heartened by the fact that almost two decades later, these young students located all the way across the country were inspired by that story to become donors themselves. What could be more inspiring?”
In response to their impressive gesture, the students received a packet of Southern Miss memorabilia. The term “paying it forward” has seldom resonated so clearly with a group of elementary school youngsters. Johnson shared that one of his students made the comment: “You have really inspired us to tell others about the Oseola McCarty Scholarship.”
Johnson noted that during the school year he teaches the class five root words per week. Just before the recent holiday break the students learned about “phil’ – the Greek root meaning “brotherly love.”
“I didn’t really need to reteach them the word they had learned four months earlier – philanthropist,” said Johnson. “They had become philanthropists in their own right.”
Johnson knows his students could not have taken their cue from a better role model. “Oseola McCarty continues to give to us all,” he said.
To learn more about the Oseola McCarty Scholarship Fund, contact the USM Foundation at 601.266.5210 or visit: www.usmfoundation.com