When I was fourteen and a sophomore in high school in Duxbury, Massachusetts, some magnanimous hometown philanthropists funded my dreams to travel abroad for the first time. Now as an adult I’m giving back in the form of an annual Duxbury travel scholarship for high school students. Others afforded me the opportunity to explore the globe when I was financially incapable. For this reason, I feel I have a debt to repay given my fortunate position as a business owner and global wayfarer.
Creating a Duxbury Travel Scholarship in My Hometown as a Way to Give Back
1 – The Back Story
Duxbury, Massachusetts has a reputation for being a scenic coastal town south of Boston filled millionaires. Streets lined with colonial style homes and impeccable landscaping abound. Except not everyone who lives in Duxbury makes six or seven figures annually. Case in point my parents struggled monetarily in every aspect of life from paying bills to buying groceries.
My dad lost his job as a mechancial engineer while simultaneously a conman stole their savings.
While other kids drove Mercedes to school and vacationed in Vail, my parents found innovative ways just to make their mortgage. From delivering newspapers to substitute teaching they provided well for my sister and me. We never went hungry and never were deprived of any necessity.
Quite to the contrary, in Duxbury my sister and I thrived. Duxbury High School provided us with a fantastic education. Roughly fifteen percent of our graduating class attended ivy league schools. (The nation-wide average is one percent.) More over in sports we dominated the competition. For example, in soccer we won both the girl’s and boy’s state high school titles. Even the sportswear company Umbro rated the men’s team 5th in the whole country.
Most of all, in Duxbury success surrounded us.
The town proliferated with doctors, lawyers, investment bankers and business owners. We could easily visualize prosperity and the avenue required to obtain it. If our neighbors thrived, the general attitude in town was that we could too.
What I dreamed of most was traveling abroad.
My family and I flew to Florida in elementary school, but outside of that there really was no money to travel anywhere far. When I approached my parents about spending a summer studying in Spain as an exchange student for AFS (American Field Service) they encouraged my idea. Only they lacked the funds to send me.
Rather than quash my goals, they showed me a way to make it possible.
My mother suggested I canvas the town with flyers. I outlined my travel plans and solicited jobs like yard work to generate revenue. Thankfully her idea worked. I spent months mowing lawns, clearing brush and trimming hedges. I shocked one lady when I generously pruned her hydrangeas, deflowering her violet foliage. She still paid me, but I really didn’t know what I was doing.
Most noteworthy, complete strangers mailed hundreds of dollars in donations. Even writing about it now brings tears to my eyes. They helped make my dream possible without expecting reimbursement. I’m forever grateful for their benevolence. In the end both my diligence and the donations subsidized my globe-trotting venture.
In the summer of 1994 I spent 6 weeks after my junior year in high school studying abroad in Bilbao, Spain thanks to the generosity of Duxbury residents.
That trip to Spain forever changed my life. My Spanish language skills skyrocketed. Also I learned how to live and adapt to life in a foreign country. And most of all I became a travel addict.
2 – Fast forward 24 years.
I’m 40 years old with 40 countries under my belt. I live in Playa del Carmen, Mexico and own a vacation rental company. Annually my partner and I travel 4 months a year. And to think my career in travel originated from the generosity of strangers.
Coming full circle, last week my mother attended a gala for Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital at a swanky mini-mansion in the exclusive Powder Point area of Duxbury. My mother receives an invitation every year, but she’s never attended before. This is because she mostly feels out of place mingling with whom she fears may be high rolling entrepreneurs who donate millions to the hospital. To this day she has no idea how she gets invited.
However this time my sister and a friend named Amy convinced my mother to go.
Perhaps out of protest my Mom agreed to attend but showed up in jeans and a nice shirt, rather than putting on her Sunday best. Casually she conversed with a lovely lady who introduced herself as Tracy. Tracy mentioned her uncle Charles Werly lived around the corner and donated generously to various causes. At the time Tracy was unaware one of those causes was me.
Charles Werly, one of the co-founders of Putnam Funds, was one of those donors who sent a hundred dollar check for my virgin voyage 25 years prior.
My Mom immediately recognized the name and shared her amazement with Tracy. Further adding gravity to the discussion, Tracy then mentioned Charles’s wife, Jane, was also quite generous. She bountifully bequeathed large amounts especially to her alma mater Ithaca College. Little did Tracy know I graduated from Ithaca College in 1999 and received lots of financial aid.
Because I graduated from Duxbury High School, most likely Ithaca subsidized most of my education because of Jane Woods Werly’s donations to Ithaca. In fact the primary reason I went to Ithaca College over NYU was because of Ithaca’s large financial package.
Furthermore, Jane Werly’s benevolence also indirectly helped me travel around Europe. While a student at Ithaca I spent my sophomore year abroad studying in Granda, Spain and London, England. Additionally I backpacked around the continent for a month adding 10 more counties to my repertoire. All of this was mostly paid for by my college tuition, which we now know was in part subsidized by Tracy’s Aunt Jane’s scholarship donations to Ithaca College.
Through their philanthropy the Werly family facilitated my studies both domestically and abroad.
The number of connections between the Werly family and mine leave my head spinning. Shall I mention Tracy’s daughter, Stacy, also attended Ithaca College and travel writes just like me? Tracy attributed meeting my Mom to fate. I’m just thankful to have life come full circle.
3 – My turn to be the benefactor
It’s very easy for me to get caught up in today’s tasks, Easily I forget all the hurdles I crossed in arriving at this point in life. Besides running a rental company, I travel write and take pictures in my free time. In other words I write this blog on my lunch breaks and in the evenings. Dwelling on the past belongs to someone with an available schedule.
But I believe strongly in giving back. As I walked my 2 dogs around the block I decided to create a Duxbury travel scholarship. Now Duxbury High School students will have an additional source to fund their voyages abroad. Although the actual details are still in the works, it’s going to be dedicated to my late father, Bob Weatherbee.
Just the thought of setting up a scholarship in my dad’s name brings tears to my eyes.
He also substitute taught in Duxbury schools while creating a better life for my sister and me. Now he’ll have something in perpetuity dedicated to his legacy.
How have donations from strangers helped you in life?
Please share your thoughts in the comments!