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Nov 15, 2023 MOST Staff

Board Member Spotlight: A Second Generation of Leadership and Support

In Mary Schell’s family, supporting education opportunities through philanthropy and volunteerism is something of a tradition.

“I was always aware of my family’s philanthropic giving because it was part of our everyday conversation,” she said. “Through his words and actions my father taught me that education was the best investment you could make. I grew up understanding it’s important to be involved in your community.”

Mary’s father Mike McDonnell was good friends with and a big admirer of M.O.S.T. founder Bob Solmson. They shared a belief that not a single dollar is wasted when it’s spent on a child's education. After his death in 2021, M.O.S.T. chose to honor his legacy of support by renaming its Founders Scholars program after him. These merit-based scholarships for high school students already in the needs-based M.O.S.T. program was rechristened, with the first McDonnell Scholarships going to five new students in the 2022 academic year.

Next year, the program will expand its eligibility guidelines to include all rising 9th graders at our partner schools and double the number of scholarships.

“I’m thrilled that the McDonnell Scholarship is continuing to grow. My father believed a child’s education was one of the best investments a parent could make and that a quality education should be available to everyone,” said Mary. “Our family is touched to see his dedication to M.O.S.T. live on through these scholarships and to see it helping more students is incredible.”

Like her father, Mary believes that education opportunities are the building blocks of a successful city. She became connected with M.O.S.T. through her father’s belief in its mission and methods, which were both designed around this idea. Mary and her husband Ryan made their first donor gift to M.O.S.T. in 2019, the same year she became a member of the Board of Directors.

“Before I had kids of my own, I was a Junior Kindergarten assistant teacher at Hutchison. I just loved the work of early childhood education. I vividly remember my father saying, ‘you have to have solid and available education options for kids in the early childhood stage,’” she said.

For Mary, an important detail that sets M.O.S.T. apart from other education-adjacent non-profits in Memphis is that its scholarships give families choices.

“With a M.O.S.T. Scholarship, parents are the ones deciding which school is going to be the best fit for their child,” she said. “To be empowered with that decision is a big deal. And I like the fact that we’re not offering a free ride. M.O.S.T. families have a vested interest in their child's education, and I think because they are playing an active role in the student’s education, the outcomes can be even better.”

“It means everything to me that I can carry on a passion of my father's by playing a role in this organization,” she said. “His legacy lies in the idea that if you can make a difference in one kid with education, and they use it as a springboard to success, it’s the best money spent.”

“Giving to M.O.S.T. is a measurable investment. I think all anyone has to do is attend the M.O.S.T. Senior Reception in May and listen to everything these students have accomplished. It's amazing, and only great things lie ahead.”

Published by MOST Staff November 15, 2023