With newly-elected officers and a clear plan of action, the Erickson Merkel Foundation recently kicked off its first meeting with enthusiasm and a positive view forward.
Two of the founders, Eric Jungels and Chris Erickson, provided the namesakes for the group, with Jungels’ maternal side – the Merkels – shining through.
Both founders come from backgrounds that valued strong work ethics. The Ericksons and Merkels worked hard to provide a life for themselves and their families. Eric said the idea to put the foundation together was breathed into life after a conversation with Chris.
“We had both put ourselves through school with a combination of military benefits and hard work to minimize student loans as fast as we could,” Eric stated. “I think it was due to our families’ backgrounds that we both made the decision to work hard to keep from burdening ourselves with student loan debt, which can be crippling for many students out there.
“We were speaking about that and the topic changed slightly to a discussion on who we would reward if we were in a place to do so,” Eric continued. “Chris said ‘workhorses’ and everything just kind of fell into place after that.”
According to Chris, a ‘workhorse’ was someone whose character reflected the values of hard work he, Eric, their families and the board members valued. It was a person who when given a task would complete it above standard. For the Erickson Merkel Foundation, that meant specifically someone who was working full time to pay their way through full time enrollment; someone who excelled inside the classroom and outside of it.
“The EMF will be successful because there is a true need for students to help alleviate the burden of student loans”
Sean Merkel, chairman
“Ultimately we’d just like to be able to reward a few candidates every year that we see are working their tails off in school and their jobs, doing what they can to minimize any debt while doing so,” Chris said. “Those students are a great example to others and we feel that they should be awarded for the heart and drive it takes to do what they do.” Sean Merkel, Eric’s uncle and the newly-named Chairman of the EMF Board of Directors, said becoming part of the organization was a great source of pride.
“I was very honored to be asked to sit on the Board of the EMF,” Sean said. “I wanted to have a way to continue the legacy of giving and compassion that my father Jerome P. Merkel has worked so hard to create.”
Matt Erickson, Chris’ brother and one of the board’s director, said the focus of the foundation placed a big emphasis on lessons he, Chris and their brothers learned growing up on the family farm.
“From a young age (right through today) watching my father Don work hard every day to provide for his family taught me the value of work; if you want something, you have to work for it,” Matt stated. “It applies equally to all areas, whether it’s academics, occupational, athletics, or relationships. What you receive (get out) is a function of what you give (put in). After my first quarter of college, with the exception of one two-week period, I had two part-time jobs until my graduation. So I can personally relate to what our applicants are going through, although frankly I anticipate most of them will be working even harder than I did and will be an inspiration for both the foundation and other students.”
The foundation has settled in at about 20 board members, who are working diligently to ensure that next year’s round of applicants – the first to be awarded by EMF – will be selected by the ambitious March deadline.
“Those students that want to remain out of debt are the ones with long term vision and goals, and if I can help some of those students achieve their goals, I want to be able to do that”
Matt Erickson, director
For its first-ever round of scholarships, the foundation is planning to award three workhorse scholars with one $3,000, one $2,000 and one $1,000 scholarship for the 2015/2016 academic year.
According to Matt, the organization’s premise was intriguing for multiple reasons including the notions of students finding ways to be proactive about college tuition, placing a positive light on great work ethics and helping workhorses achieve their goals.
“Some parents and students have figured out that the current funding model of higher education is likely unsustainable and are beginning to plan their finances better and develop ways to mitigate the costs,” Matt said. “Those students that want to remain out of debt are the ones with long term vision and goals, and if I can help some of those students achieve their goals, I want to be able to do that.
“I believe the work ethic in America doesn’t have the high standard it once did,” Matt continued. “Fortunately, there are some stellar exceptions, and one way to help reintroduce that work ethic to others is to reward those that continue to maintain it. Highlighting and rewarding those individuals can inspire others to recognize the value of hard work and perseverance. As Thomas Edison said, ‘Opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work’.”
Matt added that he knew how hard it could be to attend school and work full time and could attest to the struggles and stresses that went with it.
“The people who do that do so because they’ve made it a personal mission,” Matt said. “Helping people that have made both work and education a priority can only help them achieve their goals, help them achieve their goals faster, and increase the nation’s productive capacity – all of which contribute directly to the local and national economic and societal conditions.”
Sean said that the excitement at the board’s first meeting was palpable, contagious and could aid the directors in achieving the foundation’s goal of those first three scholarships.
“I am extremely excited to be part of such a young, motivated and talented group of people,” he stated. “The positive vibe and genuine energy portrayed by the board will certainly spell success for the Erickson Merkel Foundation.” Sean said that he was excited about the prospect of the foundation and was looking forward to helping make it successful.
“The EMF will be successful because there is a true need for students to help alleviate the burden of student loans,” he stated. “We will no doubt have donors who were, at one time in their lives, staring at large debt loads from student loans. Our goal is to reward these ‘workhorse scholars’.” Matt echoed those sentiments. “I am very excited to be a part of this and believe it has the ability for massive growth – as far as the board members can take it,” he said. “I believe if we focus on our core values, we’ll be able to achieve our initial goals and potentially grow to serve in other ways as well.
“I would like to thank the founders and other board members for both acting on their idea and setting up the Erickson Merkel Foundation that I hope will grow and thrive so that we can really help those students and show potential students that there are other methods of attending college than simply borrowing thousands upon thousands of dollars,” Matt added
From here on out the board will focus on community outreach and fundraising efforts – the former to spread the word about EMF’s mission and the latter to help reward those workhorse scholars who are living it every day.