Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Mutual Inspiration Society

Inspiration can come from the most unexpected places. 

When Betsy Bamberg answered her door late one night several years ago, the last thing she expected to see was a young woman standing there holding Betsy's purse.   

At first it wasn’t clear exactly why the woman was holding her purse - Betsy hadn't even realized it was missing! But as the woman stood before her, it was evident that she was living a hard life, possibly on the streets. 

The mystery woman told Betsy that there are people who wander downtown Charleston checking for unlocked cars and anything of value that may be inside. Betsy had inadvertently left her purse in her unlocked car. At first, Betsy was skeptical.   

But when she looked through the purse there was absolutely nothing missing.  And when she tried to give the woman the $100 cash that was in her wallet, the woman refused.  She said, “Thank you but I only wanted to make sure that it was returned to you safely and that you would be sure to lock your car doors.”  And with that, she said goodnight and disappeared.

Betsy thought a lot about that young woman ever since, and at TTC Foundation’s annual scholarship luncheon last year, fate intervened. 

As a member of the foundation’s board of trustees, Betsy looks forward to this event every year. Scholarship recipients and donors have a rare opportunity to come together:  the students to say thank you to scholarship donors and the donors to learn about how scholarship recipients are pursuing their dreams. There is often a panel of students who are led through a series of questions by TTC President, Dr. Mary Thornley, during which students share personal stories and talk about how TTC and the scholarship (s) they received helped them. Rarely is there a dry eye at the end of the event.

As Betsy took her seat at the 2013 luncheon, the panel discussion began. One of the students had a very compelling story to tell, one that moved Betsy deeply:

Trena Walker had been born in prison, and after a childhood of foster care, confusion, abuse and later drug use, she found herself in jail…and pregnant.  As Betsy (and everyone else in the room) listened with rapt attention, Trena recalled how she made a decision to break the cycle, make a change and save her child from the pre-determined life that she was living. Upon release, she entered rehabilitation and her son was born healthy and strong. 

Trena wanted more though.  She started TTC in 2010 and secured several TTC Foundation scholarships. She felt that TTC gave her the education that she never thought was possible, the confidence to reach for her dreams and connections that will last a lifetime.   

Betsy could not shake the feeling that she had met this woman before and after a few moments made a shocking realization: this was the same woman who had knocked on her door that night years before!

After the program was over and people began to leave, Betsy approached Trena and asked if she remembered her. At first, Trena did not seem to recognize Betsy as the woman whose purse she returned that night. Although it was only a few years before, it seemed like another life, especially now that she was getting ready to graduate from TTC, transfer to College of Charleston and her little boy was now 4 years old. 

But she did eventually recognize Betsy and both women hugged and made a pact to stay in touch.

Betsy was so inspired by Trena’s story of academic success and personal transformation, she decided that, in addition to the ongoing support she already provides to the TTC Foundation through volunteerism and monetary contributions, she would include the foundation in her estate plans as well so that many other students in the future could accomplish their dreams, like Trena.

As for Trena, she just completed her first year at College of Charleston and is on track to graduate Spring 2015 with a Bachelor's degree. 

“My experience at TTC taught me that there are many people like Betsy who believe in the positive impact TTC makes on its students and the community. I look forward to the day when I can personally make a difference in the lives of students and give back as well."

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