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Training with other leaders taught me how to set and achieve my goals. As a member, I even earned a college scholarship! Look out world, here I come!

By Olivia Herstein

From ATA World Volume 19, Number 2 Summer 2012

The ATA encourages students to meet their goals and overcome challenges on the mat, but what about in school and on campus? Beyond graceful forms and weapon sparring, ATA gives students an incentive to plan for their future— through their education.

In 1982, a generous donation was made to the ATA. Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee, who had never attended college himself, was inspired to take the money and establish a scholarship fund for deserving ATA students. “My father was accepted into college, but the family didn’t have money. He always instilled in us that education is very important—to go to college,” says his daughter, Lisa Lee, of the H. U. Lee Memorial Foundation. “Life doesn’t end at Taekwondo. We’re building leaders. Students may want to become doctors, teachers, attorneys, ATA school owners. We must continue our education.”

Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Foundation has awarded more than $750,000 in scholarships to 700 students across the world. In a few years, the Foundation aims to pass the $1 million mark. The national scholarships, announced each year at the World Championships in Little Rock, range from $2,000 to $10,000. The Foundation also awards regional scholarships, which range from $500 to $2,000.

One point of pride for the private, nonprofit Foundation is that all funds raised go directly to college scholarships—the ATA pays all administrative costs of the Foundation. When a school owner or instructor organizes a fundraiser, 75 percent of the money goes toward scholarships in that school’s region. The other 25 percent funds the national scholarships.

“The scholarship is a great thing to do for students through Taekwondo,” says Shahroz Fatima, 18, this year’s top national scholarship winner. “A lot of times, people can’t pay for college, and this is a great opportunity to help students. I’m just thrilled.” Fatima, who moved this summer with her family to Waynesboro, Pa., graduated with a 4.0 GPA from Conestoga High School and starts at Penn State University this fall. She plans to study biology and eventually go on to medical school. She hopes to become a doctor like her mom, Dr. Tasneem Ahmed, an obstetrician and gynecologist.

Fatima began Taekwondo in 2009, as a freshman in high school, along with her dad and brother. “At first I was really nervous because I’d never done anything sports-related before, but I really found my place there,” says the teen, who went on to become a 2nd Degree
Black Belt Recommended and a State Champion in weapons and sparring. “ATA has made me a better person—it always taught me to get back up when I fall down. Before, I was a really shy person, and it’s helped me become much more confident.” When she wasn’t studying or sparring, Fatima also tutored her peers through the National Honor Society and volunteered at a local hospital.

“Master Marc Jouan and Maria Jouan had been telling me about the Foundation scholarship for a long time,” Fatima says of her instructors. “It’s a big deal because college is so expensive, and this scholarship will really help my family and I pay for it.”

Past scholarship recipients echo Fatima’s enthusiasm for the Foundation and ATA’s impact. 5th Degree Black Belt Sean Berry, who won the scholarship in 2001, attended University of California, Irvine, and graduated from Cal State. He went on to open his own school with his wife, 3rd Degree Black Belt Lizbeth Ahn.

“I’ve been part of ATA since I was a little kid, and I wanted to apply for the scholarship,” says Berry, who runs Pride Martial Arts in Chula Vista, Calif. “I knew that martial arts was going to be my thing. The H. U. Lee Foundation has always been there for me and for other students. The martial arts impacted me, and the scholarship was a bonus.”

Berry and Ahn train about 350 students at their school, and they’ve both won World Championship titles in forms. “I love what I do, and I’m living my dream,” Berry says. “The best part has been teaching kids to be confident and ATA Strong.” He encourages students to tap all of ATA’s resources and apply for the Foundation scholarship. “Students who are graduating need to pull all the resources they can get. ATA wants you to be successful!”

Recent winner Jessica Chan says the Foundation scholarship has been a big help in offsetting the high costs of college. “The scholarship allowed me to buy books for school, which are so expensive,” said Chan, 18, who won in 2011 and studies biology and public health at the University of California—Berkeley. “The books are about $300 per class. For example, my chemistry class requires $200 for textbooks, plus more for lab notebooks.”

Chan grew up in Culver City, Calif., and she learned about the scholarship through her instructors, Master Ken Church and Mrs. Trish Church. In high school, she volunteered with the Los Angeles Pediatric Society, which inspired her to pursue a career in cardiology. She began Taekwondo at age 5 and went on to become a demo team member and World Champ multiple years—and earn a 3rd Degree Black Belt. Beyond the scholarship, Chan credits Taekwondo with boosting her confidence and providing a strong, supportive community. “I think everyone should apply for the scholarship if they want to go to college. It shows the support ATA gives for your continuing education.”

After Eternal Grand Master H. U. Lee passed away, ATA leadership decided to expand the national scholarships and create the regional scholarships to benefit and involve more students. With the regional scholarships, the Foundation has inspired school owners across the country to help raise money to send more kids to college.

“The premise of the H. U. Lee Foundation has helped me make our students more community-minded,” says Master Leland Brandon, who helped launch the regional scholarships and has been a longtime Foundation fundraiser at his Brandon’s Black Belt Academy in Henderson, Nev. “The kids know they are [fundraising] on their way to college. They realize they can become a community leader.”

Brandon, whose two sons (now grown) won Foundation college scholarships, reflects on his own career path: “All of my education came through Eternal Grand Master H. U. Lee, and now through Grand Master,” he says. “I’m trying to get more people to go to college, because I think if I had two to four years of business school, I would have been even better prepared.”

Elizabeth Cirone, one of the Foundation’s top fundraisers, runs ATA Leadership Martial Arts in Charlottesville, Va., with her husband, Ryan. In 2011, they raised $6,000 for the Foundation.

“We were inspired to hear what the money was being used for, and we wanted to support the Foundation’s goals,” Cirone says. The Cirones were impressed by the fact that 100 percent of the funds raised go toward scholarships. “I thought back to when I was in high school and trying to raise money for college myself.”

Another top fundraiser, Jim Wade, has found great success by incorporating board break-a-thons with silent auctions at his school, Karate for Kids Franklin Park, in Franklin Park, Ill. The fundraisers, he says, are a great way to build camaraderie among students. “I have children of my own now—ages 17, 15, and 12. I like the way the Foundation can give back directly to something we believe so much in,” says Wade, a former police officer who runs the school with his wife, Marcy. “I believe in the difference you can make in the community through the martial arts. And I like the way the Foundation rewards the kids with money for college.” ATA