Stacy Levinson and Perry Lancaster connect to their community through philanthropyRead more
Harmon Scholarship Revives Hope in the American Dream
Fred Harmon started his scholarship fund to foster a new generation of civic-minded innovators.
Sumter native Wilfredo Anderson, a rising sophomore at the University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business, doesn’t often find himself at a loss for words. But when the recipient of the 2016 Harmon Scholarship was announced, he proved more than a little tongue tied. “I got home, and all I could squeeze out of my mouth was, ‘I got it,’” the business finance major says. “My parents and I were ecstatic, we had a little jubilee.” 2017 Harmon Scholar Kwajo Boateng, who will attend Clemson University this fall to study computer engineering, saw a similar reaction from his parents--a Ghanaian couple who immigrated to the United States in pursuit of the American Dream. “My parents were so happy,” the Sumter High School graduate says, “they were screaming with joy in the house.”
Such responses are not unusual when you consider the breadth of what the Harmon Scholarship offers. In addition to providing a generous personal stipend, as well as funds for textbooks, a laptop computer, and a home printer, the Harmon Scholarship covers tuition costs for four years for Clemson- or Carolina-bound students hailing from Sumter County. Entrepreneur Fred Harmon, co-founder of the South Carolina based safety technology firm SixAxis, started his scholarship fund through the Community Foundation to foster a new generation of civic-minded innovators in his adopted state. “Rather than giving a small amount of money to a number of people, I chose to give a very generous amount to select individuals, to make sure that they could actually go to school and have a productive and pleasant experience,” the Indiana native says. “My only problem is picking one out of the number of terrific students who apply every year. The Community Foundation has been enormously helpful in sorting out the recipients.”
For Harmon, who manages sales-related concerns for a bevy of SixAxis brands, philanthropy is a passion he cannot commit himself to full time. The Community Foundation’s broad audience reach among residents of the Midlands, not to mention its reputation for efficient, organized grant administration, compelled him to pursue a partnership in the first place. “I talked to a few people when I started looking for a way to provide this scholarship,” he says. “A colleague directed me to the Community Foundation as a nice, easy way to administer the program--they’ve been very, very helpful with this process.”
Harmon designed his scholarship in part to challenge pessimistic notions about the American Dream. “When I grew up, I was told that America was the land of opportunity. If you got an education, worked hard, and strived to be productive, you could accomplish great things,” Harmon says. “Now, we’re told that America is no longer the land of opportunity. We need to change that perception.” Anderson and Boateng, to their credit, remain devoted to the people of Sumter County--they are eager to rekindle faith in the American Dream among their peers just as Fred Harmon did for them. “The mentality now is that we want everyone to win and we want everyone to be successful,” Boateng says. “It’s really beneficial to help other people do things that they’re not able to do.” Anderson agrees. “I never plan to completely leave Sumter,” he says. “My belief is, if you get to a certain high place in life, you should always push the elevator to go back down so you can bring somebody else up with you.”
By Luke Hodges