Byrnes gift inspires $250,000 Madison for Keeps challenge

Sweeping effort calls for alumni, parents and friends to help Dukes stay Dukes


SUMMARY: Cheryl (’77), Connor, Lily (’22) and Randy Byrnes hope their family’s challenge gift will inspire others to give during the May Madison for Keeps emergency scholarship fund drive.

UPDATE: May 7, 2020 — It took less than 24 hours to rise to this challenge meant for the entire month of May. This extraordinary donor response and increasing financial aid appeals mean Madison for Keeps fundraising continues with a new goal of $750,000 so that 150 Dukes stay Dukes. read more.

When Cheryl (’77) and Randy Byrnes heard that the economic impact of COVID-19 would affect a record number of JMU students’ financial ability to stay in school this year, they stepped forward to start an outbreak of their own.

The Byrnes Family Challenge gift of $25,000 for the Madison for Keeps emergency scholarship fund has attracted a growing number of other challengers to the cause. 

Recognizing this critical moment for JMU students, more than 35 challengers — including the largest donors, Brian (’86) and Mary Jo Hogan — have joined the effort. They promise that for every dollar contributed to Madison for Keeps through May 31, they will give the same up to $250,000 so that Dukes can stay Dukes.


The Madison for Keeps matching campaign launched May 5, global COVID-19 Giving Tuesday, with a month-long goal of raising 100 emergency awards averaging $5,000 to keep these at-risk Dukes in school.

Madison for Keeps, May 2020“We hope that by offering to match contributions ... others will feel encouraged to give — no matter the size of their gift — since it will be doubled and have greater impact,” says Cheryl Byrnes. “We know that not all parents can give their children the lifelong gift of a college education, particularly now that many face serious economic challenges as a result of this pandemic. … Both Lily (’22) and I have great affection for JMU. We both feel that it’s been a blessing and want to pass it on.” 

The Byrnes family’s matching challenge has, in the strangely apt parlance of the day, gone viral. Members of the JMU Board of Visitors have stepped forward to raise the challenge total.

“As stewards of this great university, our board is concerned about the impact the COVID-19 virus is having on members of the JMU community,” says rector Maribeth Herod (’82). “We are investing in this challenge so that our students will not have to endure the heartbreak of being unable to afford to return to JMU. We want our Dukes to complete their education here and join the ranks of successful JMU alumni carrying on our purple and gold traditions around the world.”

Members of the JMU Foundation Board of Trustees have also ratcheted up the challenge. 

“In these unprecedented times, many of our students will need our help. Can you imagine your Madison Experience being cut short by something like this?” asks trustee Enrico Gaglioti (’94), who contributed to the challenge with his wife, Danielle. “As JMU leaders, the trustees feel like we should be showing the way, so the board is joining the challenge. We hope that our contributions will motivate others to dig deep and push this match over the top so that we can help students continue their education and graduate from JMU.” 

Also joining the Byrnes family in the Madison for Keeps challenge are Kim (’80) and Craig Bram (’80), Jeff (’90) and Robin Tickle, the Women for Madison Executive Advisory Council, the JMU Alumni Association, President Jon Alger and Mary Ann Alger, and JMU’s senior leadership team. Together they have raised the potential total impact of May’s matching campaign to $500,000.

The JMU community is already responding with leadership gifts to match the challenge, including the Parseghian family.

“We choose to contribute at this time because Dukes help Dukes,” says parent Greg Parseghian. He and his wife, Christine, along with sons Greg (’17) and Alex (’20) contributed in honor of the graduating class of 2020. “The consequences are enormous: without success in this appeal, we lose existing students and fail in our mission to educate and graduate members of the classes of 2021, 2022 and 2023. Failure is simply not a viable option for this university.”

The campaign reactivates the Madison for Keeps emergency scholarship fund that came to the rescue for Dukes affected by the Great Recession 11 years ago. Back in 2009-10, 3,800 donors contributed more than $400,000 and saved 108 students from having to drop out of school that year.

Today the Byrnes family and their fellow challenge donors are asking alumni, parents, employees and friends to surpass that previous success so that JMU can meet the record number of requests for emergency assistance the financial aid office expects to receive in the upcoming year. The 2020-21 and 2021-22 academic years are anticipated to be the most demanding years ever for emergency appeals. JMU estimates that the average award necessary to keep a student (who files an appeal for aid) in school will be $5,000 this coming year.

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Published: Monday, May 4, 2020

Last Updated: Monday, May 18, 2020

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