Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska announces scholarship fund

Nebraska City News-Press

Lutheran Family Services has announced that it received a $3,000,000 gift to establish the Coyner and Donna Smith Diversity Scholarship Fund to provide a college education for graduating high school seniors from low-income, minority families who are residents of Nebraska.

$25,000 scholarships will be awarded toward funding their college education regardless of where they have been accepted. Once they have received the scholarship, students will be required to maintain a 3.4 GPA or higher to renew their scholarship each year.

The application process is rolling out this fall to coincide with the college admissions cycle for the 2021-22 academic year. The selection committee intends to fund at least five students in its first year. Students who are interested in trade or vocational schools are also eligible to apply. Trade school applicants will receive $12,500, or one-half of the $25,000 grant, renewable for two years.

Coyner and Donna Smith first became familiar with Lutheran Family Services’ work with refugees when they met a single mom from Afghanistan living in Omaha with her daughter. After being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, the Smiths became legal guardians to her daughter. He describes her as “this amazing person and unusual student who never would have had the opportunities if somebody could not help her. She’s now in her last year of law school Georgetown University after finishing in the top 10% of her class at UNL,” said Coyner Smith. He added, “She was our inspiration. So, we’ve been doing things to support refugees because it looks to me like there are a lot of people in the same situation – from low income and minority families who have academic abilities and great potential.”

LFS Chief Development Officer Mark Versen said, “It is not every day you get to make a philanthropic dream come true to this magnitude. LFS is grateful to partner with the Smiths to give the same opportunity to high school graduates and their families across the state.”

Coyner said they are excited to see the scholarship program grow. They would like to increase the number of recipients to 10-20 per year until the program sunsets. “We really feel good about doing this. We don’t have too much longer to live, and we can leave something behind. We hope it is not unique to us.” Smith concluded that they “want to inspire other people to know the fund is open to others who wish to contribute. We made it open-ended and put it in our will so it can be sustained after we are gone.” The Smiths have made arrangements for another $1M to be added to the scholarship fund upon their passing.

The Smiths have become the single largest donor to Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska since making their home in Omaha. Coyner is originally from Waverly, IL.

President and CEO of Lutheran Family Services Stacy Martin said, “Since their first interaction with LFS, Coyner and Donna have immersed themselves in action and philanthropy, helping us care for people who are vulnerable and marginalized in our communities. This gift helps many young people overcome obstacles that stand in the way of getting an education to help them break their families’ cycles of poverty.”  Martin added, “We are honored and excited to help make the Smiths’ vision a reality and fulfill the college dreams of Nebraska’s high school graduates.”

For more information or to apply for the Coyner and Donna Smith Diversity Scholarship Fund, please contact Megan McDowell, LFS Statewide Scholarship Manager, at or 701-715-2340.