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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI alumna establishes scholarship to help needy women - Beneficiaries to be recipients of state's WIC program

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KINGSTON, R.I. -- February 19, 2004 -- A University of Rhode Island alumna has anonymously donated $30,000 to her alma mater to give women with financial need a chance to obtain a college education so that they will be able to support themselves and their families.

The donation establishes an endowment in which the principal will be continually invested. Income from the endowment will provide annual scholarships.

Preference will be given to students who are former or current participants of the Rhode Island Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, more commonly known as WIC.

WIC is a federally funded nutrition program that provides food and nutrition education to low-income pregnant women, new mothers, and infants and children at nutritional risk. WIC also promotes and supports women who choose to breastfeed.

Rhode Island's WIC program was established 26 years ago and operates out of the state’s Department of Health. Each month, WIC provides foods such as milk, cheese, peanut butter and juice and targeted nutritional education to 23,000 women and children who travel to any of the 26 WIC sites around Rhode Island, according to Becky Bessette, chief of the state’s WIC program.

"I designated the WIC program because I knew the recipients are guaranteed to be unable to go to college without financial aid," says the donor. "Women like this just need a start, even a course or two, perhaps at the University’s Providence campus, to get them going." The donor expects to continually fund the endowment until it reaches $100,000.

"This is going to help economically challenged women," says URI student and new mother Kathleen Khan. "The scholarship will make it a bit easier to juggle school, family and work." Kahn should know. A WIC recipient during her pregnancy, she will continue receiving WIC benefits for another month.

Her 5-month-old baby daughter will remain in the WIC program. Kahn calls herself a "perpetual" junior since she can only take one or two courses at a time. She works at URI's Feinstein Center for a Hunger Free America and focuses her studies on dietetics and nutrition.

The scholarship fund is named after, Jose Bowen Tombs, who became the first nutrition director of the Rhode Island WIC program, which operated out of the old Lying In Hospital. The donor met Tombs at dietetics association meetings and the two women became fast friends.

Born in Wiltshire, England in 1926, Tombs was orphaned when she was six. She was raised by her elderly grandmother and then boarded with neighbors when she was a teen-ager during World War II.

She came to the U.S. only after her chemist husband agreed to buy her a dishwasher if she did. When she was in her late thirties, she graduated from Framingham State College and then became a registered dietitian after earning her master's from the Tufts Frances Stern Clinic. She died in 1987 without heirs and left her estate to three friends. The donor was one of them.

"It's really Jose's money," the donor says of the endowment. "I invested it so there’s interest. I know this endowment is something that would have pleased her."

"When asked why she gives to the University, the donor said that giving money to URI endowments helps people and there are plenty of people who need help to get a college education."