New Van | Tacoma, WA

“The power of One” is keenly portrayed in the life of Merle Palmer. A WWII navy veteran, in the confines of the ship he noticed that soldiers of color were assigned only menial duties despite their skills. Merle saw their abilities ignored, their skills underutilized and their sacrifice less honored. The lack of opportunity and inequality bothered him. Merle resolved to do something to bring about change.

Back in Tacoma, he teamed up with his pastor, the Reverend Al Davis to fund and provide guidance to two high school seniors of color. In the fall of 1983 Merle and Reverend Davis inaugurated the Eastside Community Church Minority Scholarship Fund with six students and limited funding. Located in Salishan, the largest public housing project west of the Mississippi built during World War II, the church had a congregation predominantly of low-income families of color. It also had a strong youth fellowship program filled with young people they knew well, young people with few opportunities to attend college.

The program incorporated in 1996 as the R. Merle Palmer Minority Scholarship Foundation and funding slowly increased. It had a 15-member board and served about 35 students. The mentorship component continued, becoming a key element in supporting the students throughout their college experience. To date, Palmer Scholars has impacted over 600 students with an all-time graduation rate of 85%!

The Palmer Scholars family currently consists of 12 staff, 12 board members and over 140 mentors and volunteers. In 2019, a new initiative was launched, Palmer Pathways, to address the growing number of young adults throughout Pierce County who are neither gainfully employed nor enrolled in school. The Program has grown quickly. It is now a 14-week, state recognized apprenticeship preparation program with union partners spanning nearly every craft in the construction industry. Palmer Pathways seeks to serve 50 participants per year between the ages of 18-26.

Reliable transportation has posed a barrier for many of the Palmer Scholars as well as the pre-apprentices. The advantages of the organization owning their own vans became indisputable. Purchasing them became a priority. Palmer Scholars is doing an excellent job helping young people find pathways into family-wage careers. The Foundation was pleased to help.

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