Donor on a Mission: Mom starts scholarship for average students

Peggy Wilms calls herself the average American housewife.

The mother of three is an administrative assistant in the construction industry. She's a hard worker who volunteers her time at church and local food pantries.

Through sheer determination, she founded and continues to grow the Ripple Effect Scholarship Fund with the purpose of supporting the future education of Oshkosh students. Now, Wilms - the average American housewife - also can call herself a philanthropist.

"You can do something. Everybody can do something," says Wilms, who has rallied friends, coworkers, family members and even people she's never met before to support the scholarship fund.

Photo caption: Bob and Peggy Wilms, of Oshkosh, announced the Ripple Effect Scholarship Fund first to fellow parishoners at St. Raphael Church in Oshkosh. "People came up to me that day and said, 'I didn't know you could do something like that," says Peggy. "People don't know what they can do until they try."

It all started after her eldest son, Adam, graduated from Oshkosh West High School in 2006. Despite making the effort to apply for scholarships, he did not receive one. While he graduated in the top 20 percent of his class, the competition was tough.

His youth minister recognized traits that Adam couldn't convey in a scholarship application - his gregarious personality and good heart - and gifted $500 toward his education. It was just the encouragement he needed, says Wilms.

"I believe that people want somebody to believe in them. When you get a scholarship, that's a boost of confidence and it shows that, 'yes, someone does believe in me,'" says Wilms. "And, maybe, it might just make you work a little bit harder to prove that they were right."

She saved every spare dollar over the next several years and with just more than $600 in hand, started an Acorn Fund in 2008.

Determined to grow the fund and start awarding scholarships, Wilms employed every bit of crowd sourcing that she could.

She reached out to her family and fellow parishoners at St. Raphael Church for support. She's applied for matching gifts from Thrivent Financial. She donates proceeds from an annual rummage and white elephant auction. She even took a dare, promising friends that if their donations totaled $2,000, she would dye her hair blue. The donations fell just a little short, but she went through with the hair color anyway.

Her coworkers came through for her in a big way one year by taking a collection at the company banquet for the fund.

"I called (my husband) Bob, balling, and said, 'You'll never believe what just happened,' " says Wilms. Bob, she explained, initially was skeptical the fund would grow. Times were tight, she says. He was off work for a period of time. "I think he was amazed at the generosity of people. He's been on board ever since."

The Wilms resourcefulness has paid off. The Ripple Effect Scholarship Fund has grown from that initial $600 gift to more than $17,000. Wilms' goal is to continue to grow the fund so that more than one student can be helped each year. So far, the fund has provided $3,500 in scholarships to deserving students - with average grades, and a good heart.

Ripple Effect Scholarship Criteria
  • Letter of recommendation from faculty or adult mentor
  • Graduate of a public high school in Oshkosh
  • 2.2 to 3.5 GPA
  • Possesses a generous heart
  • Plan to attending a UW campus or Wisconsin Technical College
  • Has not received other scholarships
  • Can demonstrate financial need
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