Growing 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
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
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
“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 said.
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
Scoring big for UNF and 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
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
“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.”