Retired Finland Middle School teacher Mary Mulvany was presented a Friend of Public Education award last month from the Ohio School Boards Association Central Region.
According to Mulvany, she shares the award with a whole lot of friends.
"This award isn't about Mary Mulvany at all," she said. "It's about the many good people who helped us create Success Beyond the Classroom and made it a successful program."
Mulvany, who retired in June, was nominated for the award by the South-Western Board of Education.
In its nomination, the board described Mulvany as "a tireless advocate for children" and said she "is like the Energizer Bunny on steroids when it comes to doing positive things for students."
Mulvany was one of the founders of Success Beyond the Classroom, a non-profit foundation that provides scholarships for students whose families need help paying participation fees for sports and the marching band.
"A group of us began talking about starting the foundation the very next day after the district's ballot issue passed in 2009," Mulvany said. "When previous issues had failed, the district had to cancel all sports during what was my son's senior year."
The foundation's organizers had seen districtwide what the loss of sports meant for students, and did not want any student to have to miss out on the experience due to financial concerns, she said.
"Playing sports or participating in the band is such an important part of middle school and high school," Mulvany said. "It's part of a well-rounded school experience. Not every student can be an A and B student.
"And it helps students learn about being part of a team and working together to reach a goal," she said. "That's a skill they can use throughout their lives."
A panel of community members select scholarship recipients from non-identifiable applications. The scholarships are awarded based on financial need, student essays and other criteria outlined on the scholarship application.
The foundation has typically provided scholarships to pay only a portion of the participation fee in order to help as many students as possible, Mulvany said.
"We're totally independent from the district and self-sufficient," she said. "It's been a struggle to raise the funds we need."
Until what Mulvany thinks of as a near-miracle occurred.
The foundation was featured on two segments of HBO's Real Sports series. Mulvany appeared in both segments.
The second story, broadcast in 2012, was seen by the actor Tyler Perry.
He was so moved by the story, he contacted Mulvany and pledged a $100,000 donation.
"It was such a blessing," Mulvany said. "It just came out of the blue. I often think, what if he hadn't decided to watch the show that night. We were one of the last segments, so what if he had decided to change the channel or turn off the TV?"
Perry agreed to make a surprise visit to Finland Middle School last May, and spoke to students about the difficulties he faced growing up in New Orleans.
"His donation really helped, but I don't want people to think that 'Tyler Perry gave $100,000, so now I don't have to support the foundation,' " Mulvany said.
Success Beyond the Classroom receives hundreds of applications each year, and the donation will allow the foundation to grant scholarships to all deserving students who apply this year, she said.
But generous as it was, Perry's donation will only last a couple of years, Mulvany said.
"We need the community to continue to support us and make their own donations to the foundation," she said.
Since its formation, the foundation has awarded 1,093 scholarships totaling $75,020, averaging 540 requests per year and awarding an average of 332 scholarships annually.
Donations can be made online at successbeyondthe classroom.wordpress.com. A donation form can also be printed from the website and mailed along with a check payable to Success Beyond the Classroom Foundation to Success Beyond the Classroom Foundation, 5575 W. Broad St. Columbus 43228.