ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) – Thanks to a generous yet anonymous couple, Carilion Clinic has received a $1 million donation to support its “Your Efforts, Supported” (YES) Program for employees.

“This gift makes a profound statement about the value of education and its potential to transform lives through new opportunities while meeting urgent staffing needs,” said Nancy Howell Agee, president and chief executive officer. “We’re grateful to these donors who came forward at just the right time.”

According to the health system, Carilion’s human resources team was developing the YES Program in late 2021 when the donors shared an idea to help individuals improve their education, their careers, and their financial health.

Carilion says the YES Program will launch later this year, with the goal of paving a path for eligible entry-level employees to learn, earn additional certifications, and further their education to meet career goals, all while helping to fill in-demand positions within the health system.

Health officials tell WFXR News that Carilion pay for YES Program participants’ enrollment in either a degree program or an industry-recognized credential or certificate program, as well as their regular wages and benefits while they are in school. In addition, the healthcare organization will pay for expenses — such as books, fees, and uniforms — and may provide other support employees need to balance their responsibilities at work and home.

“We wanted to make a demonstrable difference in the lives of our team members,” said Paul Hudgins, senior vice president and chief human resources officer. “The YES Program sets us on the right path, and these additional funds will allow us to do even more.”

According to Carilion, this anonymous $1 million gift will be used to establish the John Cooker Endowment Fund — named at the donors’ request — to reimburse the health system for costs associated with supporting African-American employees who are enrolled in the program.

“We are incredibly grateful to these donors for the commitment and generosity this gift represents,” said Ralph Alee, executive director of the Carilion Clinic Foundation, which raises private funds to support programs, services, and equipment that otherwise might not be possible. “Transformational gifts such as this one enhance Carilion’s ability to meet the health care needs of our region while providing economic opportunity for our neighbors.”

The donors were motivated to make the gift upon learning that their forebears profited from the labor of enslaved African-Americans. “John Cooker” was the name that the donor’s grandfather had given to the Black man who served his family when the grandfather was a young boy. While the family had a close relationship with Cooker, in keeping with the segregated norms of the time, he was never viewed as an equal.

The donors chose to name the scholarship program to both honor Cooker and recognize his potential had times been different.

“Although John Cooker has long since passed, his memory will live on through other African-Americans who’ll have the opportunity to achieve the dreams John was never able to realize,” the donor said. “It’s the key reason why we will remain anonymous, and John will not. Our hope is that this gift will inspire others to help hard-working employees improve their lives through education.”

Statement released on April 28, 2022 by Carilion Clinic

Healthcare officials say the YES Program will be open to all eligible entry-level employees, regardless of race, ethnicity, or any other characteristic when it launches later this year.

“I’m particularly touched by these donors’ commitment to providing a firm foundation for our African American colleagues,” Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Dr. Nathaniel L. Bishop said. “And I’m hopeful many will benefit from the program.”