The University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College
When Sonia Cunningham's kind, hard-working New York police officer son died unexpectedly in January of this year at age 38, she first got angry, then The University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College (UTB/TSC) nursing professor got moving. Within days of her son's funeral - an event that drew 10,000 mourners to a church in Manhattan - Cunningham had launched the Keith A. Ferguson Scholarship Fund for Criminal Justice in honor of her beloved oldest child.
The scholarship fund is invested in the Long Term Fund and the endowment has a market value of $44,105 as of August 31, 2004. The fund is made up of individual contributions sent by friends and co-workers. It will provide the first-ever scholarship endowment for students in UTB/TSC's criminal justice program. "I've had some experience raising money. I thought, 'Why not do this for my son?'" says Cunningham. "How else can you turn tragedy into triumph? It's been very helpful for me."
Ferguson was a personable, passionate young man who followed in his father's footsteps, joining the NYPD in 1987 and heading off to work each day "with a bounce in his step." He became a supervisor with the elite Hercules Anti-Terrorism Task Force of the city's Emergency Services Unit and served with international peacekeeping forces in Bosnia.
Ferguson was also well known in the Rio Grande Valley, where his mother moved in 1988. He often spoke at his mother's classes, when Cunningham was a high school teacher, and made many friends in the community. He had just returned from a trip to Australia when he collapsed at work, answering another officer's call for assistance.
Now an associate professor in UTB/TSC's Associate Degree in Nursing program, Cunningham immediately began turning her tragic loss into something positive. Her experience raising money for UTB/TSC's annual fund, The President's Circle, provided inspiration. When friends asked, "What can we do to help?" she had a ready answer: "No flowers. Send money to my college!"
"I feel strongly about education," says Cunningham, who comes from "a long line of teachers" who are active in their communities. "I feel education changes lives. In a community like ours, education is the difference between stagnation and success." Even without fund-raising events, money has "just been pouring in," says Cunningham. Answering each donation with a personal thank-you note has been rewarding, she adds.
On August 8, Keith's birthday, she hosted a fund-raising party and silent auction at her home in Harlingen. At that event, she announced the availability of scholarship applications. Cunningham hopes to award one scholarship to the local police academy and one for study toward a degree in criminal justice at UTB/TSC. She has a special interest in helping women train for criminal justice professions and wants awards to go to "B" and "C" students - the ones often overlooked when scholarships are handed out.
"I don't want Keith to be forgotten," Cunningham says. "Someone in the future may say, 'I got a scholarship to go to college' and they may mention Keith's name. I'll be happy with that."