February 1, 2012
Jeff Cohen likes saving people money.
Not bad for a business that Mr. Cohen says he and his wife, Marsha, “were winging” the first year.
In fact, the success of their Valpak franchises in that first year led the Cohens to leave their careers and commit themselves to growing the business. As one of its first investors, Mr. Cohen watched as Valpak spread to over 100 dealer-distributors across the United States and Canada — eventually becoming a household brand.
Over time they acquired several franchises in the New York area. As they became more successful, the Cohens began to think about ways to give back to the company that had given them so much. This was especially true as they started to sell off some of their franchises to focus on their original, home franchise.
“Our family was extraordinarily fortunate to have this good business, and we realized that it gave us the means to really help people in a significant way,” remembers Mr. Cohen. “I think a lot about people who may fall on hard times and are forced to abandon their dreams; and I thought, as a way to help alleviate that, why not give a scholarship with some real heft, so that it could really change somebody’s life?”
The idea led the Cohens to the Community Foundation of New Jersey (CFNJ) in 2011, where they worked with the Foundation to put together a scholarship program to support the children of Valpak employees across the country.
“We talked at some length about this and gave the Foundation the parameters of exactly what we wanted to do,” said Mr. Cohen. “They put together this whole program and kept us from getting buried in the minutia or legalisms of doing something like this.”
As outlined by the Cohens, the program would provide $10,000 to one incoming college freshman or current student each year he or she is in college for a total of a $40,000 scholarship. The student must maintain a B average and annually submit their grades to CFNJ.
“Working with the Cohens to put together this scholarship program was especially rewarding given their total focus on helping fellow members of the Valpak family who could really benefit from such generosity,” said Faith Krueger, director of the Community Foundation’s scholarship programs. “It’s been our privilege to help provide some structure to their inspiration and good works.”
In its first year, the program received 15 applications from the children of Valpak employees. CFNJ staff organized the applications and participated with the Cohens in the review and selection process.
According to Mr. Cohen, “They (the CFNJ staff) made it easy for us, putting together a binder with all of the people who applied.”
The fund’s first scholarship, awarded in June, would go to MaKayla Everroad of Lynnwood, Washington, an incoming freshman at Washington State University.
“The moment I received the phone call from the Cohen family saying I had received this amazing scholarship, I starting crying with joy,” said MaKayla. “The Cohen scholarship is making it possible for me to focus on my goal of working in pediatric nursing, rather than stressing about the financial burden of college. I couldn’t have received a bigger blessing, and the Cohen family made it possible for me to work towards my dreams.”
Not long after this important phone call, MaKayla’s mother, Cindi, a Valpak employee from Seattle, met the Cohens’ daughters at a Valpak conference. Cindi expressed that the scholarship had “saved” her family, as it would have otherwise been a challenge to send MaKayla to college.
But all that is behind her, as MaKayla gets ready for her second semester in college.
“We’d like to meet MaKayla someday,” says Mr. Cohen. “But we also look forward to hearing how she’s become a productive and successful citizen of the United States. What a wonderful legacy that would be for my wife and me.”
Come early next year, CFNJ will start accepting applications for the second scholarship from the Cohens’ fund.
“Only this time,” says Mr. Cohen, “we can show the students that someone actually got the scholarship and it’s made an enormous difference.”