Students without parental support find Christ’s love at HSU

  |  Source: Hardin-Simmons University

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Hardin-Simmons University is living up to its founding vision—showing the love of Christ—by instituting a full tuition scholarship program for qualified self-sustaining students who lack parental support.

When James B. Simmons helped found the Abilene school, he recommended it be named Christlieb College—the college of Christ’s love. While the name did not endure, the vision for the school did through the Christlieb Program, providing full tuition for independent students who have no parental support.

‘Serve the fatherless’

“My hope is that we can be these students’ forever family,” President Eric Bruntmyer said. “This is a way for us to stand in the gap. We want to be the hands and feet of Christ as we serve the fatherless.”

Eric Bruntmyer said the inspiration for the Chrislieb Program came to him as he was walking along the Sea of Galilee in Israel and he felt God leading him to pick up some stones.

“I picked up five stones—one for each of my kids, but then I realized I could have picked up 10 stones. I could have picked up hundreds. If each of these stones represented children, God was showing me that he was calling me to help care for the fatherless,” he said.

Bruntmyer soon learned the Abilene Independent School District has more than 1,300 students who are classified as homeless. Many of these students are in foster care or living with a friend or relative. After these students turn 18, they often are without financial or emotional support. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, less than 3 percent of foster students graduate from a 4-year college.

‘Giving back to our community’

In an effort to meet that need, Bruntmyer worked with the board of trustees, admissions and advancement to provide full tuition to students who qualify for the program. Any FAFSA funds students receive go toward their housing, meals and books.

“This is our way of giving back to our community,” said Vicki House, vice president for enrollment management. “It is HSU’s way of saying we are committed to the success of our students, even if they are not able to pay.”

In addition to financial support, HSU’s office of student engagement works to ensure that students are aware of their access to free counseling, tutoring, mentoring and career services. Students have multiple points of contact on campus, including their first-year mentor, resident assistant and student success specialist.

‘A solid foundation of love’

Stephanie Ellison, who graduated in 2008, received similar support from Hardin-Simmons. She grew up in an abusive home. Her father was in prison for much of her childhood, and her mother was a drug addict and a prostitute.

The family moved frequently, living in cars, tents, motels, and on the streets. When she was emancipated from their care at 16, Stephanie worked three jobs to pay her rent. She had no intention of attending college, but all that changed when she was invited into a family who showed her the love of Christ.

“I don’t know where I would be without them,” Ellison said. “They created a solid foundation of love and acceptance and paved the way for me to understand who Christ is.”

HSU ‘became home’

Stephanie’s foster parents encouraged her to go to a college and career night, where she saw a Hardin-Simmons booth.

“I saw a table that said, ‘An Education Enlightened by Faith.’ I knew that was the only college I was going to apply to. I knew that I needed a foundation of faith,” she said.

She was accepted on academic probation, but she succeeded at HSU, earning a 4.0 her first semester. She was awarded scholarships, but more importantly, she was given more love and support.

“Hardin-Simmons became a home for me,” she said. “The people that I met there taught me to rise above my circumstances.”

After graduating from HSU with her Bachelor of Behavioral Science and Communication degree, Stephanie went on to earn her Master of Counseling and Human Development degree at HSU. Today she is a photographer, singer/songwriter, and marketing manager at Big Country CASA, working to end child abuse for children much like herself.

The Christlieb Program is completely funded by sponsors. Sponsors can support one or more students, or simply donate any amount to the program. For more information, contact Hardin-Simmons University Advancement at (325) 670-1260 or

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