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UNF Foundation, Inc.

THE PLAYERS Championship extends support for scholarships

speaker at a podiumGrowing up, Huyana Phour had little doubt that she would go to college. Paying for it was the unknown.

Both of her parents are from Cambodia. Her father escaped the country’s genocide through a dangerous walk to Thailand with his family as a young child. Her mother got out of the country when she was 18. Though neither finished high school, they knew America would be the land of opportunity for their only child. 

“My parents always told me they would pay for me to go to college no matter what, saying ‘We came to the U.S. for you to have a better life,’ ” she said, knowing the financial burden would be difficult. 

Today, Phour is a junior at UNF majoring in communication. She is also a recipient of a First Generation scholarship funded by THE PLAYERS Championship.

THE PLAYERS commitment to education

The First Generation Scholarship program was approved by the Florida legislature in 2006 to provide matching funds for scholarships that benefit students who would be the first generation in their families to graduate from college. THE PLAYERS Championship endowed a First Generation Scholarship fund at UNF in 2009. In August 2017, THE PLAYERS pledged to double the current endowment to $1.5 million over the next five years. 

Twenty-five students like Phour received THE PLAYERS Championship Endowed First Generation Scholarship this year, which will reach even more students in the future.

“For almost a decade, THE PLAYERS Championship of the PGA TOUR has made higher education possible for First Generation students at UNF,” said Ann McCullen, vice president for University Development and Alumni Engagement and executive director of the University of North Florida Foundation, Inc. “Their generosity is changing lives on our campus and in this community. We are so grateful for their partnership and investment in UNF students.” 

Jack Garnett is captain of past chairmen of THE PLAYERS, known as the Red Coats for the jackets they earn chairing the PGA TOUR’s prestigious annual golf tournament. It was the Red Coats who established THE PLAYERS’ endowment for first generation students at UNF.

“We feel we have an opportunity to change the whole dynamics of a family through support we provide to a First Generation scholar,” Garnett said. “The likelihood of their kids going to college is so much higher, then they have kids who go to college, and it continues to the next generation …”

Being able to help start that cycle is an ambitious goal embraced by Garnett and his fellow Red Coats, and with the number of scholarship recipients impacted each year, they are continually rewarded by students’ appreciation and their success.

Making the dream a reality

Without this scholarship I would not be able to afford to go to college,” said David Lu, who is grateful to THE PLAYERS for helping him pursue the American dream his Vietnamese parents craved for their children. “Every year it pays a big chunk of my tuition and books.”

A junior in mechanical engineering, Lu said his parents moved to the U.S. for a better life and set high academic expectations for their sons. After graduating from Paxon School for Advanced Studies in Jacksonville, Lu was accepted to a few colleges and chose UNF largely because being close to home would be more financially feasible. His brother, Tuong Lu, graduated from UNF’s nursing program before THE PLAYERS Championship Endowed First Generation Scholarship was established.

The brothers are the first generation in their family to seek a four-year college degree. Although their parents were skilled professionals in Vietnam, they lost their jobs with the regime change after the war, Lu said. The couple moved to the U.S. in the 1980s, and today own a nail salon in Amelia Island.   

Lu recognizes the importance of hard work and looks forward to his future as an engineer. “In high school, I made the decision that my grades are a reflection of me and nobody else should have to tell me that I have to work hard and study hard to succeed,” he saiid. 

Lu appreciates career-building opportunities he has at UNF and hopes to work for an engineering company that will help him finance graduate school. 

Meanwhile, he is particularly grateful to have scholarship donors who show an interest in his future and what he is working on.

“The Red Coats are genuinely good people who take the time to interact with us,” he said. “It shows they really do care. They have a concern for their community and the welfare of its youth."

Scoring big for UNF and the community

The UNF First Generation endowment is part of THE PLAYERS’ goal to generate $50 million over 10 years for youth-related charities — with a heavy emphasis on education. THE PLAYERS has generated more than $92 million to benefit about 300 local charities since the tournament moved to Ponte Vedra Beach in 1977.   

“UNF is such an important aspect of our community by training qualified people to be in our workforce,” said Garnett, a proud alum. “If we are to continue to compete for business, we have to partner with UNF.”

Before they established the First Generation scholarships, THE PLAYERS provided scholarships for area students to go to any college. “We wanted to create an endowment at UNF to keep that money at home,” said Garnett, who chaired the tournament in 2002.  

Past chairs are Red Coats for life, with the honor of representing tournament volunteers and helping to decide how to spend charity dollars, said Garnett, whose role as captain is to coordinate the Red Coats’ activities for his two-year term.

Gratitude and Paying it forward

“My favorite thing to do is handing out awards and checks,” Garnett said of his community involvement through THE PLAYERS. “It’s wonderful to see the smiles when you give a small charity 10 percent or more of its budget or see the UNF students’ faces at graduation.”

And it’s clear that the scholarship recipients appreciate the Red Coats’ interest in their academic success as much as the funding itself.

“THE PLAYERS Championship is always engaged with its scholarship recipients at UNF,” said Tyler Stovall, a past recipient of THE PLAYERS scholarship who graduated in 2016 in health science and is now pursuing a master’s degree.

“Jack Garnett presented me with my scholarship at my high school graduation,” he said. “It was a special moment showcasing how the Red Coats believe in their students.” 

Garnett can identify with the students’ challenges. His father died about nine months after he graduated from Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville. He struggled with attendance while earning an associate’s degree at the local junior college. At his mother’s encouragement he went to UNF, where he graduated in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Today he is president and owner of Garnett Commercial Real Estate, Inc., which he started nearly 19 years ago.

Garnett is pleased to now have the opportunity to make a difference through THE PLAYERS Championship and he’s especially proud of the 2,000 PLAYERS volunteers who give so much to the community.

Now Garnett challenges scholarship recipients to pay it forward: “Wherever you are as a UNF graduate, remember what was done for you,” he tells them. “Volunteer for something that makes your community better.”