Helping Students Move Beyond Cancer, One Scholarship at a Time

Reinventing the Outdoors contest: For cancer survivor Craig Pollard, helping other survivors go to school is the ultimate triumph over the disease.

UPDATED! Launched on Monday April 4, GOOD and the 2011 Ford Explorer will be devoting six weeks to the Reinventing the Outdoors Contest, which showcases amazing organizations like this one that are redefining the way we live, work, and play outside. Check in every day for a new story about the people, celebrities, and programs behind each organization. Help your favorite group win the $50,000 grand prize by voting for them starting Monday, May 16 through Friday, May 20.

A two-time cancer survivor and amputee, Craig Pollard vowed as a teenager to help others if he made it through chemo alive. As a counselor at Camp Ronald McDonald, he saw how cancer treatment drained families financially and emotionally dry and with little left over to even think about faraway, big picture dreams like college. In 1993, he started Cancer for College to give scholarships to cancer and amputation survivors—and to provide a personal example of triumphing over a terrible disease.

GOOD: What do you think makes Cancer for College so valuable to students?

Craig Pollard: Our whole goal is to provide hope and inspiration to cancer survivors and amputees. We want to give them motivation to get out of their hospital beds and go to college. It’s expensive to be a cancer patient, plus a lot of kids with cancer have been disabled physically or mentally by chemo, so they often can’t earn other academic or athletic scholarships. These kids have kicked cancer’s butt—we want to honor them.

G: Why specifically have golf tournaments to help fund these scholarships?

CP: It’s all about being outdoors and having fun. 90% of people stink at golf, so it’s a humbling sport.

G: What appeals to you most about golf?

CP: I don’t know of any other sport that’s about being outdoors for four or five hours, with no other distractions. It’s a great escape that’s just about having a good time, chatting with your buddies, and being outdoors. And from ages 5-100, anyone can play. Plus, there are all sorts of adaptations for people with disabilities; there are even retrofitted carts for people in wheelchairs.

G: What is your favorite part of your job?

CP: There’s no bigger joy in life than seeing the faces of these kids when they get their scholarships and seeing how proud their parents are of them. They’re so thankful and gracious—it motivates me on a daily basis.

G: How do you pick scholarship recipients?

CP: We have a formula of financial need and tuition needs, and we also look for kids that want to make a difference in the world. The applications we get just blow us away, 80% of the applicants are philanthropically involved or passionate about something. Because kids who have cancer realize that when you’re on this planet, you only have one shot at it. I have a story in my desk that I read every day from a past winner who was told by her doctors that she was going to die, and when she survived, she wanted to share her love of life through art. It brings me back to reality and reminds me of what’s important.

G: What would you use the contest money for if you won? Any big dream projects?

CP: If we won, we would have ten to twelve more scholarship winners, which would be incredible. Ultimately, I want to establish a $10 million fund so that scholarships can be donated off the fund’s interest. Inspiring these kids and spreading the Cancer for College love—it’s all about paying it forward. These kids are so motivated to make a difference, to be doctors and nurses, and to help cure cancer. We already have a past scholarship winner who’s an oncology nurse in the same hospital where she once got chemo. Imagine if your kid one day gets cancer and a scholarship winner is their doctor; wouldn’t it be great to know you supported them?

G: You’ve battled some extraordinary obstacles in your life—and won. How do you feel that Cancer for College has affected you personally?

CP: Lying in a hospital bed, just wanting to get out alive, made me realize that it’s all about people you love and the impact you’ve had making a difference for other people, not about material things. If the only thing anyone remembers about me after I’m gone is that I started Cancer for College—that’s enough.

via Alan Levine / Flickr

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