As students have returned to schools across the nation this month, The ALS Association shared the announcement of an award of $500,000 in scholarships to 100 students for the 2021-2022 school year through The Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund. Established in 2019, the fund was created to support post-high school education for students whose lives have been impacted by ALS. Since its inception, we have awarded $1,195,000 in 239 scholarships for students nationwide who are pursuing an accredited college degree or vocational certificate.
Mark Calmes, member of The ALS Association’s National Board of Trustees, started the scholarship fund in honor of his late wife, Jane, who fought ALS for eight years and passed away in August 2017. “The financial burden of ALS is devastating to families, and kids are all too often collateral damage. The disease forces many students to delay their education so they can pitch in as caregivers, while others lose the financial ability to attend school altogether,” said Mark. “I’m very pleased the fund is able to help some of these students get back on the education path that was disrupted by ALS.”
Throughout September we have highlighted some of this year’s scholarship recipients, sharing their personal stories about the impact ALS has had on their lives. We recently talked with Elita Schmidt to learn a little more about her connection to ALS, what receiving the scholarship means to her, and her future plans in healthcare.
The Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund was established to help people who have been impacted by ALS pursue their education. What is your personal connection to ALS?
In August 2017, my father was put on hospice after a 10-year long journey with ALS. In the years leading up to 2017, I witnessed the symptoms and effects of ALS firsthand. I helped my family care for my father while balancing this grueling situation with my “normal” teenage responsibilities. In November 2017, my very strong and hardworking father lost his long, hard fought battle against ALS.
It’s estimated that more than 60 percent of people don’t know what ALS is. What do you wish people knew about the disease?
I wish people knew how ALS impacts relationships with loved ones. Specifically, for children of those battling ALS, it is extremely difficult to watch a parent slowly lose their grasp on normal life functions. In the beginning, it was hard for me to understand why my father could no longer speak properly, or why it hurt to open his hand all the way to grab something. I’d like others to know that once the symptoms worsen, you have to change how you interact with your parent or family member completely. The entire dynamic of your family changes. The loss of speech hinders communication leading to confusion and frustration for both the patient and for the family as caregivers; the loss of muscular functions exacerbates this. Simple daily tasks such as standing up, eating, or drinking, can no longer be done without assistance. In my family, someone always had to be home to help my father, especially as his condition worsened. Knowing the impact ALS has on the family, in addition to the physical and mental implications it has on the patient, is such a crucial part of understanding the illness and all the difficulties that come along with it. In my opinion, all ALS patients and their caregivers are heroes, and I would love to raise awareness so that others can understand the strength it takes to face this battle.
How will the Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund impact your future?
The Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund is assisting me in my pursuit of an undergraduate degree. I am extremely thankful to the Fund for awarding me with this scholarship two years in a row. Having less financial worry throughout my undergraduate studies has allowed me to better focus on my education without the financial burden I would otherwise be facing. This has allowed me to keep my mental state clear and my mind on my future goals and plans. I hope I too can assist a student like myself through their education one day.
What are you planning to study and why?
I am currently a junior Biomedical Sciences major at St. John’s University. After my undergraduate education, I hope to attend a Physician Assistant graduate program. After my first couple years of college, I have widened my interest in the healthcare field. I have also become interested in the inner workings of the healthcare system and am considering continuing my education with a focus in healthcare administration or patient advocacy. I would like to work in the healthcare field because of my experiences with my father. I truly learned what it was like to be a caregiver at a young age and have grown to be more nurturing and empathetic as a result. I was also able to meet so many healthcare workers — nurses, doctors, social workers -- who really made an impact on my life, and I aspire to do that for families in the future.
What do you like to do when you aren’t in school?
I tend to fill up as much of my free time as I can! I am a Student Ambassador at St. John’s University where I get to meet prospective students and families and give them tours of campus. I am also a member of Gamma Phi Beta, a sorority that has given me a great sense of community. Being in a sorority has opened many service opportunities for me while I’m away at school. Additionally, I have always been passionate about dance; I was a studio dancer for my entire life and continued my passion by joining St. John’s Kickline Team. When I’m home on Long Island, I spend much of my free time at the beach. I love spending time with friends and family out on the water or relaxing with a nice book!
Is there anything else you would like to share?
For the last seven years, I have been volunteering at the Hockey Helps 24 Hour Hockey Marathon each Labor Day Weekend. As a nonprofit organization, Hockey Helps raises funds for local Long Island charities that “help individuals struggling with addiction, mental illness, and cancer, and to provide support for children and youth facing economic disadvantages, illness, or related hardships.” This year Hockey Helps added The ALS Association to the list of recipients and donated $5,000. It has been an honor to work with an organization that has given so much to the community, and I am grateful we can help others who are fighting the same difficult battle my dad fought.
Special thanks to Elita Schmidt for allowing us to share his story with the ALS community. To learn more about some of our Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund recipients, follow our blog HERE.
More About Jane Calmes:
The Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund honors Jane’s courageous spirit, her love of family, and her belief in the importance of education.
Jane Calmes was born in Coffeyville, Kansas, and spent her youth in Neodesha, Kansas. She attended Kansas University and later graduated Magna Cum Laude from Wichita State University in 1980 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Science/Dental Hygiene. Jane was an accomplished dental hygienist and loved working with the public, all the while providing a necessary service with gentle thoroughness, for which she was noted. She married Mark Calmes in 1980 and together they had four children.
Jane was also an ALS hero, having fought the disease for eight years through pure grit and determination. Early on in her journey with ALS, the family formed a very successful Walk to Defeat ALS® team in her honor named Jane’s Angels, which continues today. Jane passed away peacefully at home on August 16, 2017, in the arms of her husband and surrounded by her loving family.