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Appalachian Students Set to SOAR with Help of Toyota Tsusho-backed Scholarships

A recent celebration of some promising young Appalachian students provided an illustration of Toyota Tsusho’s commitment to building a better future for us all.

At a banquet in Whitesburg, Ky, four students each received a $5,000 scholarship toward their higher education goals. Those scholarships were made possible because of a long-standing relationship between Toyota Tsusho America (TAI), Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) and Teach for America Appalachia.

SOAR’s mission is to solve the issue of population retention and growth in Eastern Kentucky. Teach for America Appalachia is a leadership development organization which seeks to transform education and expand possibilities for young people.  

Over the years, TAI has worked with both non-profit organizations to help advance the Eastern Kentucky region by creating economic and educational opportunities. This new initiative is the latest result of that collaboration.

TAI and SOAR worked to connect students enrolled in Teach For America’s Future Forward program (another TAI partnership) to the STEM scholarship opportunities, which were funded by a $20,000 donation from TAI.

The four inaugural scholarship recipients are:

Molly Compton of Prestonsburg High School, who will study elementary education at Big Sandy Community and Technical College.

Kevin Howard of Prestonsburg High School and Floyd County School of Innovation, who will pursue mechanical engineering at the University of Kentucky.   

Cameron Reynolds of Harlan High School, who will study engineering at Eastern Kentucky University.

Jolena Nguyen of Harlan High School, who plans to study nursing at the University of Kentucky.

The four recipients of the scholarship, made possible by TAI and SOAR, pose for a picture

Each student will receive much more than financial support during their higher-education journey. They’ll be provided coaching and mentoring by Teach for America throughout their college careers, as well as mentorship and support services from Toyota Tsusho – including potential internship opportunities.  

More Than Just a Check

Josh Ball, SOAR Chief Operating Officer, relished the experience of watching each student receive their scholarship check at the banquet.

“It was, quite frankly, humbling.” Ball said. “This program was more than a scholarship and the banquet was more than a celebration. We viewed this partnership as an investment in students and the future of the region. We wanted the students, their families, and the participating schools to truly understand that they are instrumental to the future we envision across Eastern Kentucky.”

Compton is determined to help build that better future.

“I just want to say, ‘thank you’ to Toyota Tsusho and Teach for America for giving me this opportunity,” she said. “It truly is such a blessing and I’m so excited to pursue a career in elementary education and pay it forward to the children of Eastern Kentucky.”

For Nguyen, the scholarship is also important on multiple levels.    

“This scholarship is more than just a check to me,” Nguyen said. “My mom is a single mom and she has three daughters … so this money goes far beyond that. And to me, it means that I can actually become a nurse and achieve my dreams.”

Unprecedented Opportunities

The STEM scholarship program is yet another forward-focused effort Toyota Tsusho is undertaking to help invest in people and build a better future for us all.

Ball looks forward to many more collaborations between TAI and SOAR, along with Teach for America Appalachia.

“It is our hope that we continue to grow our relationship through not only the power of monetary investments, but more importantly, through service and teamwork, powered by the commitments to place, people, and purpose we all share,” Ball said.

“As our region and our people dream big and reach high, we know that the values we and Toyota Tsusho share can help our region and its people soar to unprecedented opportunities.”