Active kindness

Donor support lifts students in need

Stephanie Bailey, ’10 BA(Hons), - 09 May 2019

The Dr. Wendy Jerome Bursary removed the weight of debt from kinesiology student Eric. Now he can focus on empowering people with disabilities, like his sister Kari.

Wendy Jerome, '58 BPE, was a painfully shy teenager. It wasn't until a teacher convinced her to try out for the high school cheerleading squad that everything changed. She not only made the team but soon became head cheerleader.

Wendy went on to become an Olympic-level coach, a teacher and a pioneering sports psychologist - success she attributes to a network of supportive mentors. "I was lucky to have people who took an interest in and cared about me when I had no self-esteem and no support at home," she says.

Financial aid and encouragement helped turn Wendy Jerome's life around. Now she wants to do the same for U of A students in need.

One of those people was Maurice Van Vliet, dean of the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation when Wendy was a U of A student in 1959. He was aware of Wendy's personal struggles and encouraged her to apply for a $200 bursary, which allowed her to finish university.

After graduating from the U of A, she returned to her high school to thank the teachers and principal who had also encouraged her. "One teacher said to me, 'Do the same for someone else.'" And so she did, by setting up a bursary to help U of A students facing financial barriers.

"I want to help that student who's at a critical point in their education but having a tough time trying to make ends meet, trying to do it on their own," she explains. "That student who is like me, who may go and do the same for somebody else in the future."

Thanks to Wendy's bursary, which is awarded to one kinesiology student each year, third-year student Eric has been able to focus less on financial stress and more on helping others.

Like Wendy, Eric sees the potential in everyone - whether it's the kids he coaches in wrestling or people like his sister, Kari. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy after a traumatic car accident, she has been in a wheelchair most of her life.

Eric came to the U of A to study adapted physical activity, with the dream of one day empowering people like Kari to lead an active life -- no matter what their impairments might be. But paying the bills hasn't been easy.

"Getting a bursary was a huge relief," he says. "I have so much gratitude for what Wendy has done. It really hits you when that generosity impacts you directly."