For Hayley Nichols, school was her escape. It was the place where she could feel safe and where she knew she would receive nourishment of her body and soul. Now in her early 40s, Nichols said growing up in a family with four sisters and in an unstable environment, she was forced to find her own way at an early age. Her father had been injured and unable to work, her mom worked several jobs to try and make ends meet, and they also received public assistance. And there was alcoholism.
“School became my comfort zone. It was also a place where I knew I would receive a meal,” said Nichols. She enrolled in everything from athletics to leadership activities just so she could prolong the time she spent at school.
“I did not have the supportive atmosphere at home that many have,” she said.
It was not until she entered high school that she realized her family was poor. There were students from several middle schools that integrated into one high school, and she then realized she was different.
“I graduated in three years, taking both my junior and senior year in one year so that I could move out of the house,” she said.
People told her combining two years of school into one had not been done before. “That doesn’t mean it can’t be done,” said Nichols of her response. “When you are in a desperate state, you make things happen. I’m a problem solver. There’s always a solution.”
It is that drive, and the assistance she received from the Peninsula Hawks Scholarship Fund, that has carried her through the years. Nine years ago, after graduating from Central Washington University and working with Microsoft as a project manager of various design teams followed by work with a company associated with Microsoft, Nichols began her own company. Allovus is committed to matching creative people with their dream job, and its success is based on the model Nichols said she had used for the 20 years prior to the formation of her company.
“Employees are first, clients are second and the company is third,” said Nichols, adding that if the employees and clients are happy, it trickles down to a healthy company.
As a business owner, Nichols was like many others—donating to several different charities. But by doing that, she was not able to see a tangible result.
“I wanted my employees to experience how good it feels to give,” said Nichols.
She was at her son’s school and heard an announcement about the scholarship applications. It was then she knew she wanted to focus her efforts on supporting students with post high school opportunities.
She contacted the Peninsula Hawks Scholarship Fund, a group formed in 1984 with the purpose of providing a means for the community to support continuing education by providing graduating seniors with scholarships that meet the donors’ criteria.
During her first year, she and her employees established a $10,000 scholarship that was divided among three people.
“It is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” said Nichols of awarding scholarships to high school students. “The appreciation shown by the kids was overwhelming.”
Today, the Peninsula Hawk Scholarship Fund has more than 80 local donors, and Nichols serves as the chair of the donor committee.
As a means to raise funds, The Scholarship Fund also owns the S.A.V.E. Thrift Store (Seahawk Academic and Vocational Education). Located at the bottom of the hill from Peninsula High School, the store has funded more than $50,000 in scholarships each year.
Over the course of the last three years, the amount of money Nichols and her employees donate has grown substantially, and this year they will award $37,500 in scholarship money.
“I just keep coming up with ideas,” said Nichols of the various scholarships that are awarded.
The scholarships to be awarded to the class of 2017 include one Allovus Trailblazers Scholarship, awarded to someone who is “ready to change the world.” The recipient of this scholarship must possess the same traits as Nichols did at that age. They must maintain a high GPA, be involved in school athletics and maintain employment while in high school.
Five Allovus Leadership Scholarships will be awarded to students who possess leadership qualities. Four Allovus Creativity Scholarships will be awarded to students who show an interest and talent in a creative career. There will be five Allovus Family Scholarship awards given to students who either they or a family member have assisted in the success of Allovus as a company. Finally, there will be five Grow and Go Scholarships that will be awarded to future entrepreneurs.
The Grow and Go program is something that is new this year. “I’m working with the Peninsula School District to help kids fund their own education,” said Nichols.
In the Grow and Go program, students present a business plan and are paired with a mentor. They will be awarded $2,000 to help fund their business, which will in turn help the student to fund his or her own college tuition.
“We are trying to help kids early on who are natural entrepreneurs,” said Nichols, who adds that it was not until five years ago that she realized her own entrepreneurial skills.
The feedback Nichols has received from the scholarship recipients has been heartwarming. She had one graduate visit her and bring her flowers, sharing with Nichols that the scholarship award allowed the student the opportunity to attend her first choice of schools; something she never thought possible.
Last year, the Peninsula Hawk Scholarship Fund awarded close to $300,000 in scholarship money to 177 students. “This is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Nichols. “My goal is to make it so we have double the amount of donors as we have students.”
Although very humble when asked about her years as a child and how she came to own her own successful business, Nichols also is willing to do whatever it takes to help kids succeed.
“By sharing my story, I want to give others hope,” said Nichols. “For some of the kids, a scholarship will be the only chance they have to attend college. If you tell kids that you believe in them, sometimes that’s all they need. It just takes one person.”