“Breathing Room.” How the Abney Foundation Helps South Carolina Youth Attend College

The Abney Foundation, a private foundation that backs nonprofits and scholarships in South Carolina, continues to help hundreds of students attend college in the state each year.

Tuition and debt are serious challenges for today’s students, due in part to state governments’ disinvestment in higher education. Outstanding student loans reached a record $1.465 trillion in 2018.

The Abney Foundation, which has been giving since 1957, is doing its part to open doors for students and boost their chances of finishing their educations without owing an overwhelming amount of money.

The Abney Foundation has scholarship endowments at 14 colleges and universities, and in the 2017-2018 round of gifts, more than 575 students benefited from its largesse. One of them was communication major Emma Clements, who was among the 172 students attending Clemson University this year with the assistance of the foundation. Clements described receiving her notification of the scholarship award: “I was given breathing room that day. So many of us are used to being so independent and knowing that struggle is not a stranger. I was reminded of generosity and that I am not doing this alone.”

The Abney Foundation funds college endowments, but the individual schools administer the scholarship programs. Interested students need to contact the school’s financial aid department about potential qualification. So far, 15,247 Abney Scholars have received almost $34 million, and the schools’ combined endowment balances exceed $45 million.

This foundation has awarded more than $58.5 million overall to a variety of organizations since its founding. While about 75 to 80 percent of its giving is directed to post-secondary education, remaining grants support organizations in the Anderson, South Carolina, area. Local nonprofits are encouraged to become acquainted with this funder, which offers worthwhile program and project grant opportunities.

The Abney Foundation typically gives around $2 million each year to support “innovative and creative projects, [and] programs which are responsive to changing community needs in the areas of education, health, social service, and cultural affairs.” Proposals are due annually on Nov. 15, and the foundation usually reviews them in December. In a recent year, it gave 34 grants totaling $1,875,000 to nonprofits, including the Anderson Free Clinic, Haven of Rest Ministries, the Peace Center for the Performing Arts, and the Girl Scouts of South Carolina.

The Abney Foundation was started by Susie Mathews Abney, who left it a sizable bequest when she died. She was the widow of John Pope Abney, founder of the Abney Mills textiles. She was reportedly a loyal supporter of children’s causes throughout her life, with the Connie Maxwell Children's Home being a particularly dear institution.

"She had a great capacity to love people, and she was especially concerned with the well-being, comfort, and happiness of children," Dr. Sam Smith, superintendent of the home, said of Mrs. Abney in a 1969 article.

This backstory makes the foundation’s recent grants to the Calvary Home for Children and the Foothills Alliance, which serve local children in need, seem all the more apt. Indeed, its scholarship programs continue to support youth in South Carolina as they journey into adulthood.

“I know that my grandmother would be pleased with the vehicle she so wisely created that has done so much for so many,” foundation Chairman J.R. Fulp, Jr. has said.