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Pursuing their passions

Mandy Stowe Madison Forever

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As a job coach for the Arc of Southside, Amanda "Mandy" Matherly Stowe ('10) helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities pursue their passions. But it wouldn't have been possible if Madison donors hadn't first enabled Mandy to graduate a JMU Duke. Give to Madison Forever and help students like Mandy pursue their passions today.

Mandy Stowe was a senior at James Madison University when a motorcycle accident claimed her father's life. Under the burden of immeasurable grief and having lost their primary income earner, Mandy's family was faced with the difficult reality. They would not be able to afford Mandy's final semester of tuition.

(Slideshow: Mandy Stowe's Be the Change journey)

Although tragic, situations like Mandy were becoming increasingly more common when the university launched Madison For Keeps emergency aid initiative in 2009. Thanks to nearly 3,500 donors to the program, Mandy and 106 others were able to continue their Madison Experience. Mandy is sure Madison For Keeps help bolstered her final push to finish her JMU degree. "If it wasn't for Madison For Keeps, I don't think I would have gone back and finished, just because of the financial burden it would have placed on top of my family, on top of losing my Dad and his income and all the hospital bills. It was just overwhelming. Having Madison For Keeps there was irreplaceable."

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Mandy put her biotech major to special use as a research specialist with the Danville, Va.-based Institute for Sustainable and Renewable Resources Laboratory. The plan is to grow special energy grasses to produce ethanol and revitalize Danville area farms, too. "It's about repurposing what's already here and giving our farmers some of their livelihood back."

After her first year, Mandy decided it was time for a change. "I ran off and got a college degree to get a cushy job and I had it; and it just wasn't in my heart. I had to be helping people." Today she works for The Arc of Southside, which provides services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. As a job coach Mandy guides clients in discovering their passions, which she then matches to possible employment opportunities. The switch from working with plants to working with people was easy, she says, thanks to the liberal arts education she received at Madison. "I was a biotechnology major and philosophy minor. Everybody at JMU always complains about why we're required to take GenEds [General Education classes], but it ends up helping in the long run. I was able to switch fields without much effort."

(Related: Mandy Stowe named Preservation Virginia's Young Preservationist of the Year.)

Mandy says the greatest challenge facing her work with The Arc is changing her community's mindset."In the past, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been institutionalized in a group home or alienated in special schools. It's been a big shift for Danville and The Arc to give these people their rights back. We can show people that they are capable and able to be productive citizens." Mandy is optimistic for the future of clients she coaches. "These people have amazing work attendance and work ethic. The value to the community is a completely untapped work pool."

Mandy looks back on her Madison Experience with great fondness. "From eating at D-Hall with perfect strangers and having a new friend walking out of the door to sharing an umbrella with a perfectly good stranger. Everyone is family and everyone is your friend. You can always count that someone else is going to be there to help you through it." She views Madison Forever, the permanent fund established in the wake of Madison For Keeps, as an extension of the JMU culture. For Mandy, help from the Madison For Keeps does more than provide dollars to students in need. It changes lives. "Madison Forever is worthwhile, it is important and it makes a huge difference in people's lives — just like Madison For Keeps did in mine."

Hold the door open

In the last few years, numerous colleges and universities across the nation have experienced unprecedented numbers of students with urgent financial needs resulting from drastic and unforeseen changes in household income. Acting without hesitation, James Madison University deployed Madison For Keeps, an emergency fundraising campaign, to aid students with greatest financial need. Thanks to a host of JMU alumni and donors more than 100 students were given the gift to finish their journey as Dukes.

Now, JMU students once again need your help. Madison Forever is a permanent program that will enable JMU financial aid officers the flexibility to help students with greatest financial need. This program hopes to hold the door open for Dukes in the years to come. Please give today.