As a third time award winner of the Melanie Merola O’Donnell Foundation Scholarship, Ms. Permut said, “I feel honored to be connected to this extraordinary group of people who come together each year to honor the life of Melanie Merola O’Donnell. Their passion and compassion inspires me to try to extend, in my own way, the beautiful work that Melanie did in the world.”
“I first applied to the Melanie Foundation in 2011. I was halfway into my first year of graduate school, overwhelmed with the amount of work and the extraordinary burden of the costs. I knew that my life path included developing a strong foundation of clinical skills in order to serve individuals with mental health challenges, as well as finding ways to serve communities on a larger scale through community building and training other mental health professionals. I was less certain that I had the personal endurance and social support to run the marathon of the clinical psychology PhD. program I had enrolled in in Baltimore, Maryland, far from my friends and family.
Reading about the work of Melanie Merola O’Donnell and the foundation her friends and family created to honor her life inspired me, and I felt immediately connected to her journey and the organization. I had no idea what I was getting into. I was delighted to be awarded a $1,000 scholarship in 2011 and began correspondence with various members of the Foundation Board. Our interactions were always warm and friendly and through these conversations, I became aware that by honoring me with this scholarship, the foundation board was communicating to me that the work I have been called to do in the world is valuable. I felt more supported and connected, and the first year of graduate school became a bit more bearable because of this.
I applied to the scholarship again in 2012, was honored with a $2,500 scholarship, and was able this time to travel to Saratoga for the race. What I found there was truly amazing. Although the foundation was started by Melanie’s closest family and friends, it has brought together a much larger community by uniting joy, service, and purpose, in this event. People who knew Melanie distantly as well as those who did not know her at all are magnetized to the celebration of her life that has become a local holiday in the town of Saratoga. I was met at the local train station by a board members’ husband and their three children. The hotel lobby was abuzz with board members, their families, children, acquaintances, and runners. Husbands and wives brought lunch to the busy volunteers, children of all ages staffed the t-shirt table, elders supervising the younger, and laughter and joy (and a tinge of exhaustion) emitted full force from the registration area. I was quickly caught up in the thrall – handing out t-shirts, joking with the children, distributing lollypops.
Throughout the weekend, I was welcomed wholeheartedly at every table by everyone I met. And nearly everyone had read my application, knew of my passion for my work, and expressed congratulations and well wishes for my educational goals. I was told stories about the work that Melanie did and the many lives she touched. I was able to meet her husband and son. I realized then that I had become a part of the very work I wished to do in the world – community building, transformation, building connection. The friends and family of Melanie Merola O’Donnell, faced with the worst kind of tragedy, turned it into a living community memorial in her honor. Their commitment and passion brings a community together, provides funding for service work in the community, and supports mental health professionals in achieving their educational goals in order to make the world a better place.
I have been lucky enough to receive financial support from the Melanie Foundation for four years of my graduate school education. But this is no ordinary scholarship. Every dollar has been quadrupled in impact by the support and connection with this extraordinary group of people. They even got me to run my first 5K! The scholarship application invites applicants to use some of Melanie’s favorite quotes for the application, one of which is “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” by Mahatma Ghandi. The Melanie Foundation has given me a new perspective on effecting change through daily actions, relationships, and connecting to my community in small and large ways. Their financial support helped me get through my degree, but their impact on my heart and my work will last the rest of my life.”