Freedom To Learn

December 4, 2006

The four-letter word "hope" is key to the vocabulary of a new Baylor student, the first recipient of an endowed scholarship that goes to the children of imprisoned parents. It's a word she might not have used much before the scholarship was established.

"It was a huge relief to think that I actually got the scholarship and have the ability to attend a university such as Baylor," says the student, who asked that her name not be used. "Creating these funds gives students like me a chance that we thought we would never have. Not only does it help financially, but also emotionally and spiritually, to have hope to accomplish great things in life. It has also given my family renewed hope that good things can still happen for us and our lives can turn around for the positive."
Established by the late Curt Johnson, the Neal T. "Buddy" Jones Endowed Scholarship puts a Baylor education in reach for students who might never had had the chance to go to college otherwise. It also helps fight the cycle of crime in families. 
Johnson, the owner of Leif Johnson Ford, often reminded himself and others that God intended for people to share their riches. "God is able to give you more than you need so that you will always have enough for yourselves and every good cause" (2 Corinthians 9:8), is the verse he used in his correspondence. That in mind, he established a ministry, Sharing God's Love, in Austin in 1997. Its mission is to give the families of the incarcerated hope for the future. 
Creation of the scholarship came after the ministry paid for construction of a chapel and a resource center for families at a maximum-security men's prison, the John B. Connally Unit, in Kenedy, Texas. Johnson and his board wanted to do more to directly influence the lives of prisoners' children. They knew that education was the answer, so creating endowed scholarships at Texas universities was the next step. 
"The average grade level achievement of the 2,900 men at the Connally Unit is 7.6," says Shirley Miller, volunteer with Sharing God's Love. "So if you take somebody in that home environment, once the kid gets past seventh grade, they know more than their parents do. It may not be a household that encourages learning. But someone who is educated is more apt to foster that value in their families."
Although Johnson did not attend Baylor, his son Leif graduated in August with a degree in business administration. Seeing his son go through Baylor influenced Curt Johnson, says Buddy Jones, BA '74, JD '75. "Because Leif went to Baylor, Curt saw the role Baylor plays in spreading the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the world. Curt believed in Baylor 2012, and he thought this scholarship was a natural result."
In Jones, Johnson found an eager helpmate. "We have not only an opportunity to help break the cycle of criminal conduct, but we have the responsibility to do so as a part of our Christian witness," Jones says. "As a pastor, my daddy had already put in my heart the need to help prisoners and the families of prisoners, but Curt tilled the soil, watered and plowed the field, and he instilled in me the follow-through."
Establishing the scholarship fulfilled one of his father's dreams, says Leif, who sometimes worked with his dad to encourage acquaintances to support the scholarship fund. "My dad's inspiration of wanting to do something to make the world better and giving scholarships started it, and his close friends all gathered behind him and helped push it through. With his charismatic ways and caring heart, he gathered this group of people, led this ministry and shared God's love. He led it, but all these guys are in it together -- they all have the same vision."
Although Curt Johnson died in July of a heart attack, the vision continues and is having the intended results with the first scholarship recipient here. "At Baylor, not only do I get to grow in my education, but in my faith as well," says the student. "Baylor is a beautiful school with a prestigious reputation for its outstanding education and its Christian environment filled with wonderful people who will help you in any way they can." 
Her mother says that seeing her child get the scholarship was "nothing less than a huge weight being lifted off my shoulders. The scholarship allows her to move forward in her life. I cannot put into words how forever grateful I will be."
For information about supporting Sharing God's Love and the Neal T. "Buddy" Jones Endowed Scholarship at Baylor University, please contact Bill Dube, director of the Endowed Scholarship Program, at (254) 710-2561.