After four years of college, only 25% of the students who set out to attempt a four-year degree have graduated.
It’s the other 75% of students that the Braunfels Foundation Trust is setting out to help.
Funds raised by the BFT go toward awarding local scholarships to students pursuing trades, going to vocational school or seeking a licensed profession after high school.
“There’s a lot of scholarships out there for kids going to college, but there’s no one out there helping these kids not going on to college after high school and so we thought, ‘Man that’s the perfect place for the trust to do it,’” said Mike Meek, treasurer of the BFT and president and CEO of the Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce.
The BFT has been awarding those scholarships to Comal students for seven years — growing every year.
“One year we helped 76 kids with $1,500 scholarships each,” Meek said.
“And that’s what we really want to do, we want to be able to give out as many of those as we
can,” said Teresa Johnson, president of the foundation trustees.
The BFT was actually started because of the Flood of 1972, a natural disaster that swept through Texas and changed much of the area forever — killing 11 people and forcing thousands to leave their homes.
“It made worldwide news, it was very devastating,” Meek said. “Well our founding city, Braunfels of course heard about it and one day a letter came with a $1,500 check in there and they had gone to the citizens of Braunfels and they’d taken up a donation and sent it over and said, ‘Hey use this to recover,’ and so even back then $1,500 was a lot of money.”
Braunfels is not a large city, it’s just a small burg, Johnson said.
“Tom Purdum, the chamber president, and Tom Burrus was a local attorney who was very involved in the community, they got together and said, ‘Okay what are we going to do?’” Meek said. “They realized they could just spend that money real quick on something, but it wouldn’t have lasting benefit. So it took two years but they put together the Braunfels Foundation Trust.”
When it started historic preservation was a priority, Meek said.
“Growth was starting to occur and historic buildings were starting to get torn down instead of moved,” Meek said.
It was around this time the Dillen couple moved into New Braunfels, Meek said.
“They were collectors of Texas handmade furniture but they really didn’t have any place to display it,” he said. “They were getting older and so I think they were clients of Mr. Burrus and so they devised this plan to where they would donate their collection and that the trust would display it and so the Museum of Texas Handmade Furniture was born.”
From the birth of this museum, came the birth of the Heritage Society, to act as stewards for the treasures.
“That went on into the 1990s and around that time the trust was becoming more focused on education and the Heritage Society kind of had that down to a fine art on how to do what they were doing so the trust basically sold the assets of the Museum of Texas Handmade Furniture to to Heritage Society for a $1,” Meek said. “And that freed up the trust to pursue other things.”
As Communities In Schools began to grow in the area, so did the need for their own building, Meek said. One of the nine trustees who oversee the BFT, Dennis Heitkamp, was working for Chase Bank.
“And Chase Bank had the Hinman House on their property that they owned and they were looking to divest themselves of that property,” Meek said. “And we said, ‘Well how about Communities in Schools, they’re looking for a place?’”
While they’d found a property, making it habitable was another story, Meek said.
“So the trust said, ‘Hmm, how are we going to get the money to do that?’ and so they came up with the idea to have this fundraiser, let’s call it the Living Legends of New Braunfels,” Meek said.
During the 1990s, the BFT also began its middle school citizenship program, Meek said.
“It honors kids for doing the right thing, so that’s something we do every year,” Meek said.
In 2010, came the idea for barons and baronesses, members who pay dues with the dues primarily go to the vocational scholarships.
Why give to the BFT?
It’s the majority of kids, not the minority, who will benefit from these special scholarships, Meek said.
“The majority of the high demand occupations in the future that don’t require a four year university degree but they do require something past high school,” Meek said.
The $1,500 each student receives can go a very long way for them, Meek said.
“Our goal is to give out $100,000 a year, and we’ve gotten close to that, I think last year it was over $80,000.”
Meek said those numbers might not mean much for a four-year college degree, but goes a long way for others. That money can be the difference between receiving that post-high school education or not, Meek said.
“It’s the difference between starting it or not even trying,” he said.
How to give
There are a number of ways people can give to the BFT, Johnson said.
“We’re a 501(c)3 so anyone can make a contribution to the Braunfels Foundation Trust,” Meek said.
Attending and supporting the Living Legends is also a way to support the foundation, Meek said.
“The Living Legends started being an annual affair and this thing has just taken off,” he said.
The annual gala honors New Braunfelsers who have made an impact on the community.
Another way to support it is by becoming a baron or baroness, Meek said.
“Here we are in 2019 where we have about 150 baron and baronesses that pay dues,” Meek said. “The trust has about a 99% retention rate, they really believe in this program.”
Someone interested in becoming a baron or baroness contacts the trust, which has coordinator, Meek said.
“We get a lot of referrals, too, and I wish the chamber’s retention was as high as the baron or baronesses retention,” he said.
And one of the most fun ways will be a new fundraiser the BFT is debuting, Johnson said.
“So we’re going to have a brunch on Feb. 7 at the Grand in Milltown from 11 a.m. to 2p.m. and what we’re going to do is we’re going to have mimosas and bloody marys, brunch foods, and we have these teams that are going to decorate tables and so you come and visit and walk around, look at the tables and visit,” Johnson said. “They’re all going to be over-the-top unique — each a different theme, the designers take a theme and this has been done in different parts of the country and so we’re going to do our little spin on it, this is a first time event, so we’re really excited.”
Table sponsorships are still available for the inaugural event, Johnson said.
“You have sponsor purchase a table and either the sponsor has a team or sponsors or team and we have some great designers and we still have a few tables, if anyone wants to participate, we’d love to talk to them about it,” she said.
For more information about the event or about the BFT, visit http://braunfelsfoundationtrust.org/site/ or call (830) 625-2385.