The foundation with a heart
The Mary Gourley scholarship helps non-traditional students pay for college.

A shocking revelation eight years ago hurtled single-mom Dina Gonzales into a nightmarish free fall. After a five-year court battle, she was forced to file for bankruptcy.

“I lost virtually everything,” she says. Gone were her house, car, boat, even her job, which she quit so she could collect her retirement money to pay legal fees. “I walked away with my truck and the ruination of my credit.”

But while struggling with anger, frustration, helplessness and guilt, she hatched a plan for recovery. At its core was completing her college education, which she had started more than 17 years before the nightmare began.

Gonzales is now a junior at UTA, pursuing a double major in international business and Spanish. After graduation she hopes to work for a multinational company. Her two daughters are also UTA students.

Aiding the family’s return to stability was the Mary I. Gourley Foundation, a low-profile Fort Worth organization that helps single parents afford college. Gonzales is one of about a dozen UTA students receiving assistance from the foundation, which also awards scholarships at five other area schools.

“It’s been a total blessing,” said Gonzales, who also has a 9-year-old son. “I’m a starving student with three kids. The money has been a great help. It’s what allows me to pay my living expenses. I couldn’t do this otherwise.”

Established with an anonymous gift in 1988, the Gourley foundation is named for an uneducated single mother who was a close relative of the founding donor. The organization typically assists 80-100 nontraditional students per year. More than 400 have graduated, some with multiple degrees.

Margaret Banios will add her name to the list this spring when she completes her bachelor of science degree in interdisciplinary studies. The 48-year-old mother of five, who postponed her higher education to raise a family, enrolled at Tarrant County College in 1999. Two years later, she came to UTA, where her late father, Edward Banios, taught computer science and engineering.

The Gourley scholarship has meant much more than extra cash for her.

“It’s been instrumental in fulfilling my dreams. It’s given me a future. Before, it looked pretty bleak,” she said. “It’s also had a big impact on my children. I’ll soon have a nurse and an electrical engineer in the family. When they saw me go back to school, they decided to go back, too.”

An inspirational message accompanies the monthly check for Gourley scholarship recipients. This nourishment for the soul is the brainchild of Beverly Coon, the foundation’s executive secretary.

“Because these students frequently don’t get encouragement from their families, we decided they needed some encouragement,” Coon said. “They’re heroes and much more than a Social Security number to us. Many of them say these gems of wisdom mean as much to them as the money.”

The personal touch doesn’t end there. The foundation sends holiday and birthday cards—and sometimes an extra $50 at Christmastime. Every semester, Gourley officials host a luncheon for recipients at each school. It’s a foundation with a heart, Coon boasts.

Amen, Gonzales says.

“These people really take a personal interest in you. They want to know how you’re doing and what your plans are. They go above and beyond what other scholarships do. They kind of pick you up and take you through to graduation.”

Then comes another luncheon—call it the final affirmation.
“It’s our last opportunity to tell them how proud we are of what they’ve accomplished,” Coon said. “When they feel grateful and express their gratitude, that brings closure.”

Soon it will be Gonzales’ turn to say thank you.

— Mark Permenter

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