As students are returning to schools across the nation, The ALS Association is proud to announce the 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.”
We recently talked with Emma Thompson, one of this year’s award recipients, to learn a little more about her personal connection to ALS, what receiving the scholarship means to her, and her future plans in nursing.
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?
My grandma, Eileen Thompson, was diagnosed with ALS in March of 2018 after wanting to find a “fix” to losing muscular control of her left hand. Long before the diagnosis, my grandma would come to our house every two weeks and my mom would paint her nails. I would make them coffee and listen to them talk about their days, faith, and busy lives. I distinctly remember the day that my grandma couldn’t pick up her mug anymore, and from that day on, I always brought her a straw with her coffee. I remember my mom having to redo multiple nails because my grandma would have muscle spasms in her hand. I remember seeing her with braces on her fingers to help keep them straight. I remember her needing help putting on her jacket. All these things, these symptoms, became so normal that I never thought much of it and yet looking back, it was so blatant that something was wrong.
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?
Before my grandma was diagnosed with ALS, the only other time that I had heard of the disease was during the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, little did we know that this organization that we donated to would be our lifeline for the next two years. Because of the rarity of ALS, not many people are aware of what it is or how the disease works and because of the lack of awareness, especially with medical professionals, ALS patients and their family’s struggle. However, once we switched over to an ALS clinic that was in our city, we got the support and help we so desperately needed with a team specializing in ALS needs.
I also think that if we would have been more familiar with ALS and its symptoms, we would have recognized the signs and taken my grandma to see someone earlier. With ALS, there is no cure, so time is of the essence. Medications like Riluzole can slow the progression of the disease which makes it crucial to catch it as early as possible.
How will the Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund impact your future?
The Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund is an absolute game changer for me as it’ll be a huge help paying my college tuition. I’ll be attending Whitworth University this fall. My family spent (and still spends) a lot of our resources helping to care for my grandparents. With assisted living and doctor’s bills for the two of them hitting over $15,000/month, the financial strain on our family was immediate. That along with my family’s business being closed during Covid, my college savings were quickly drained to help keep us all afloat.
What are you planning to study and why?
I’m planning on studying nursing at Whitworth University and will be applying for the nursing program this fall. When my grandma was diagnosed with ALS part way through my freshman year, I had a first-hand look at the way medical professionals affect the lives of their patients. I wanted to be one of those people who made a difference to people in some of the hardest and most challenging times of their lives. Although I initially thought I wanted to be a physician, I realized that the nurses, who so lovingly and skillfully cared for my grandma, were really the people who were "hands on" with the patients. Watching the way they impacted my grandma and my family helped me decide to pursue my Bachelor of Science in nursing.
What do you like to do when you aren’t in school?
Anytime I’m not in school, I try to be outside. I absolutely love wake surfing, climbing, hiking, and kayaking. I’m also a competitive swimmer and will be continuing to swim in college at least for the first year before nursing school begins. S’go Bucs!
Is there anything else you would like to share?
When I read about Jane Calmes and how she was not just an ALS warrior but a breast cancer survivor as well, I couldn't help but think about my grandma who was a two-time breast cancer survivor. Like Mrs. Calmes, my grandma also deeply cared about education and would be so proud of me for pursuing my dreams in nursing. I'm so grateful for this support and for the opportunity to be an ALS advocate and educator in the medical field.
Special thanks to Emma Thompson for allowing us to share her story with the ALS community. To learn more about her, listen to our recent Connecting ALS podcast, "Helping Students Affected By ALS Overcome Financial Hardships…".
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.