September 12, 2018 10:42:33 AM
Mary Pollitz - [email protected]
Richard "Dickie" Scruggs found his love for education while helping inmates receive their General Equivalency Diplomas while he served six years in federal prison.
Prior to his conviction, Scruggs rose to notoriety and became a millionaire for his prosecution of the tobacco and asbestos industries. His legal career was later derailed when Scruggs was sentenced to serve six years in federal prison for a judiciary bribe in 2009.
Teaching inmates while in prison led him to create a nonprofit organization to increase adult education in Mississippi.
"When I was in prison, teaching sort of gave me a new purpose in life," Scruggs said. "I realized that it was a rewarding feeling when you see a light bulb pop on in a student's head. So when I came home, I just kept doing it."
Scruggs was released from prison in 2014 and founded 2nd Chance Mississippi to help adults who lack higher education, by providing services for GED completion or assistance in acquiring work skills with local community colleges.
Scruggs said adult education needs to be pursued at an early age. Last year, he visited the Emerson Family School of Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District and said he was impressed with its PreK-4 program. He was so impressed, he and his wife, Diane, gave Emerson $150,000 last year, and school board trustees accepted another $100,000 from the couple during their regular meeting Tuesday night.
In fact, for the past three years Scruggs has donated $500,000 annually to pre-kindergarten collaboratives in Mississippi. Emerson PreK-4 is one of 14 collaborative preschool programs in the state, which is partially funded by the Mississippi Department of Education.
"The Pre-K collaboratives are probably the best investment we can make in Mississippi," Scruggs said. "You really have to start them at age 4 in order to give them a good chance to succeed."
Last year's Scruggs donation was to be split evenly between parents and students at Emerson. This year's $100,000 infusion will be a 75-25 split between student and parent programs.
"We are excited about their support," SOCSD Superintendent Eddie Peasant said. "A lot of parents of those students are given some opportunities that they would otherwise not have. We are really trying to support our community and the growth and quality of life for people in our community so we appreciate them recognizing that."
Joan Butler, director for the Emerson Family School, said the Scruggs contribution is unlike other donations to the Pre-K programs since it provides funds for not only students' education but parents as well.
"It's an awesome opportunity for family, as well as for their children," Butler said. "It's a great benefit, it's a tremendous support and we are so thankful that we have the opportunity to provide that to the families in the community."
Since last year, Scruggs's funds helped 10 parents with children at Emerson earn their pharmaceutical technician degrees from East Mississippi Community College and three more parents received their GEDs.
Butler said Emerson is still working with the funds from last year's contribution and hopes to reach more parents in need of higher education, including testing for technical training.
"We can provide them adult education, we can provide them WorkKeys (exams that measure manufacturing skills), assistance in preparation as well as pay for testing," Butler said. "These funds will also pay for them. Those dollars can be spent to improve the quality of life with education and opportunities for those individuals."