Worldly Wise: Community Foundation Donors Open the World

At an event, Suzanne Sebert and Debbie Veatch happened to strike up a conversation and realized they both had been foreign exchange students – Suzanne in Germany and Debbie in South Africa. As they conversed, it was also clear they shared an interest figuring out how to give other high-school age young people, who may not have the means, a similar life-changing opportunity.

As they researched the issue, Debbie and Suzanne discovered that many large American cities like Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, had high school scholarship programs in place for this purpose.

With that nugget of information in mind, the women set out to establish a similar one in St. Louis.  Their first stop: the St. Louis Community Foundation.

From these discussions the QUEST Scholarship fund at the Community Foundation emerged. It is a program that enables individuals to make donations to the fund, which gives high-achieving, high school students in local, underserved communities the opportunity to spend a summer overseas.

Among the first students helped by the QUEST fund were twins Tracy and Stacy Vilsaint, who visited Ghana and Costa Rica, respectively.

“Never in a million years, did we dream we could do something like this,” says Tracy. “It was an amazing experience,” Stacy chimes in.

Tracy said her visit to Ghana gave her a better understanding of African-American history. A memorable highlight for her was her visit to the slave castles on the coast, “I stood in the rooms and imagined what it was like for people to go through all that they did,” she says.  “I understood those people were my people – and are my people. My ancestors went through this.”

In Costa Rica, Stacy gained greater self-confidence. “I had always been a twin,” she says. “But there, I found my own voice!”

Both want to travel more and are grateful for the new friendships. “We gained new families,” Stacy said. “We share a special bond with our in-country host families, QUEST volunteers, and the other scholarship students.”

So, what are the young women up to now? They are spending their “Gap” years before college as Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange scholars – an adventure they never would have pursued if not for their QUEST experience. The exchange program for German and American students is jointly sponsored by the U.S. Congress and the German Bundestag to commemorate the 300th anniversary of German settlement in North America.

For Suzanne, Debbie, and all the QUEST Scholarship fund donors – mission accomplished. Lives touched, horizons expanded. New adventures await.  Take a look here for a recent article on the program.

For information on how to open a scholarship fund at the St. Louis Community Foundation, visit here or contact Amy Murphy at 314-880-4965 or amurphy@stlgives.org.