Richmond Ridley Fund Reaches $1 Million Milestone

walter ridley

First year student Jasmine Zollar is the first full-tuition Ridley Cain Scholarship student at UVA Zollar, center, is pictured with Syd Dorsey, left, and Alex Taylor, right.

The Richmond chapter of the Walter Ridley Scholarship Program raised $1 million for the Clarence Cain Endowed Scholarship, a merit-based scholarship given to an outstanding African-American high school student from the Richmond area. Having achieved this milestone, the fund awarded a full-tuition scholarship for the first time last spring.

“We had to reach $1 million by March to award the full scholarship this year. We worked hard to meet that goal,” the president and co-founder of the scholarship, Alex Taylor (Col ’84) explained.

The chapter’s fund has grown from a book award to a full tuition scholarship with gifts large and small. The sustained effort and effectiveness of small donations showed that “collectively we can make a difference,” said former Board of Visitors member Syd Dorsey (Arch ’82, Darden ’87). An active fundraiser for the scholarship, she also sits on the selection committee. Since its creation in 2002, 321 donors have given to the fund.

The Ridley Cain Scholarship aims to expose Richmond-area high school students to the benefits of attending UVA “It’s important for creating a local, community connection,” said Dorsey, and a tool for alumni to guide bright students they know to their alma mater. “We, as alumni, don’t want them to go anywhere else, so this is a way to keep talent in the Commonwealth.”

Rising fourth-year Chelsea Stokes, enrolled in the accelerated Master’s degree program in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, said the scholarship was the reason she decided to attend UVA She also added that it is important for recruiting African American students as “a way to compete with Ivy League schools to attract talented students.

The scholarship’s benefits do not stop at financial support. “Recipients see us as mentors and we can offer them advice and council as alumni,” Dorsey explained. Every semester, a member of the Richmond Ridley chapter serves as an academic adviser to the scholars, talking with them about grades, internships, and networking opportunities.

These involved alumni have built up the fund from its infancy. Taylor credits the collective work of Richmond-area alumni, a partnership with the UVA Club of Richmond, and matching gifts from business leaders for the fund’s substantial growth since the initial idea for a local scholarship in 2002. In 2008 the Clarence B. Cain Challenge was launched to match a $200,000 gift from an anonymous donor in honor of Clarence B. Cain, an African-American student who attended the University in the 1970s and touched the lives of many Ridley donors. The fund was renamed in Cain’s honor to celebrate the gift. From 2012 to 2014, the endowment grew from $800,000 to $1 million, thanks to the concerted efforts of Richmond Ridley chapter members.

For Taylor, the value of the Richmond Ridley Clarence Cain Endowed Fund is to encourage students to become future leaders of the University and to boost the scholarship program. While his immediate goals are to increase the Ridley Cain Scholarship to cover all expenses and to help other chapters start their own local scholarships, he hopes the scholarship will bring new leaders to the University, who will in turn give back to Ridley. “Our recipients are already becoming leaders of this scholarship; they’re giving back the same way we did,” he said.