By Melody Vallieu
Helping children reach toward a brighter future is the mission of a local nonprofit.
The brainchild of educators Alan Zunke and Jill Wilson in 1993, The Future Begins Today has awarded a total of 1,270 grants and $620,000 to college-bound students since 2000. The mission of the program is to nurture, mentor and offer scholarship programs for Troy students. The organization works with at-risk students through a variety of programs to motivate and encourage them to stay in school, to be regular in attendance and conscientious in academic work, and to plan to attend post-secondary education.
Each year, the organization provides up to $2,000 grants to graduates who prove financial need for last dollars to attend post-secondary institutions.
For the past 12 years, Cheryl Cotner has led the program as the executive director, with the help of the organization’s board. Cotner recently announced that she would be leaving the organization to move to Greenville, S.C., to become a more hands-on grandparent.
“I want to be a grandma now. It’s time,” Cotner said during a recent interview in The Future Begins Today office. “They’ve been asking me for a long time.”
Cotner said leaving Troy — and an organization she loves so much — is bittersweet.
“I never thought about leaving Troy. This program has been amazing. It’s a wonderful mentoring and scholarship program,” Cotner said of the program that provides last dollar grants to Troy and Troy Christian students. “I’ve witnessed students that are now doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. I’d like to think that The Future Begins Today had something to do with that.”
Cotner, who serves on her alma mater Ohio Northern University’s board of trustees, said her favorite event of the year is the awards night, scheduled for Aug. 5. Cotner said $43,000 in grants will be given to students that evening.
“To see the students receive the grant awards. To see them grow and mature and become responsible adults,” Cotner said, tears rolling down her cheeks. “It’s just so amazing.”
The organization is a United Way funded agency, that also receives support from The Troy Foundation, Duke Foundation, Miami County Foundation and The Acorn Society. Cotner said TFBT also has a great support system in other United Way funded agencies to help the children and their families, such as Lincoln Community Center and The Rec, just to name a few.
Students also give back as part of the program. Since 2000, Cotner said students involved with The Future Begins Today have provided 8,800 community services hours in various forms.
The board of TFBT is seeking Cotner’s replacement. More information on the position and a complete job description can be found at www.thefuturebeginstoday.org. Interested candidates should submit a letter of interest and a résumé by Aug. 4 to The Future Begins Today, Attention: Marion Stout, 500 N. Market St., Troy, OH 45373.
While Cotner is looking forward her her future — attending school and sporting events for her grandchildren — she said she will always look back to Troy as her beloved home.
“We moved to Troy in winter of ‘72. The first day we moved here I knew this place was special,” Cotner said, her eyes again filled with tears. “It’s going to be hard to leave.”
Melody Vallieu can be reached at [email protected]