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Carilion Clinic Receives $1 Million Gift to Help Advance African American Careers

Carilion Clinic has announced that it has received a $1 million gift from an anonymous donor couple that will support the health system’s YES (Your Efforts, Supported) program for employees.

“This gift makes a profound statement about the value of education and its potential to transform lives through new opportunities while meeting urgent staffing needs,” said Nancy Howell Agee, president and chief executive officer. “We’re grateful to these donors who came forward at just the right time.”

Carilion’s human resources team was developing the YES Program late last year when the donors approached the health system with an idea to help individuals improve their education, their careers and their financial health. Carilion’s plans and the donors’ idea were a perfect match.

YES will launch later this year. Its goal is to pave a path for eligible entry-level employees to learn, earn additional certifications and further their education to meet career goals, all while helping to fill in-demand positions within the health system.

Carilion will financially support all YES Program participants by paying for their enrollment in either a degree program or an industry-recognized credential or certificate program, as well as their regular wages and benefits while they are in school. In addition, the organization will pay for expenses such as books, fees, uniforms and may provide other support employees need to balance work and home responsibilities.

“We wanted to make a demonstrable difference in the lives of our team members,” said Paul Hudgins, senior vice president and chief human resources officer. “The YES Program sets us on the right path, and these additional funds will allow us to do even more.”

The John Cooker Endowment Fund

The anonymous gift will be used to establish The John Cooker Endowment Fund, so named at the donors’ request, which will reimburse Carilion for costs associated with supporting African-American employees who are enrolled in the program.

“We are incredibly grateful to these donors for the commitment and generosity this gift represents,” said Ralph Alee, executive director of the Carilion Clinic Foundation, which raises private funds to support programs, services and equipment that otherwise might not be possible. “Transformational gifts such as this one enhance Carilion’s ability to meet the health care needs of our region while providing economic opportunity for our neighbors.”

The donors were motivated to make the gift upon learning that their forebears profited from the labor of enslaved African-Americans. “John Cooker” was the name that the donor’s grandfather had given to the Black man who served his family when the grandfather was a young boy. While the family had a close relationship with Cooker, in keeping with the segregated norms of the time, he was never viewed as an equal.

The donors chose to name the scholarship program to both honor Cooker and recognize his potential had times been different.

“Although John Cooker has long since passed, his memory will live on through other African-Americans who’ll have the opportunity to achieve the dreams John was never able to realize,” the donor said. “It’s the key reason why we will remain anonymous, and John will not. Our hope is that this gift will inspire others to help hard-working employees improve their lives through education.”

The YES program will be open to all eligible entry-level employees regardless of their race or ethnicity or any other characteristic when it launches later this year. “I’m particularly touched by these donors’ commitment to providing a firm foundation for our African American colleagues,” Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Dr. Nathaniel L. Bishop said. “And I’m hopeful many will benefit from the program.”

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