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Donation ensures scholarships for PCC students

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Tom and Chris Neilsen of Northwest Portland have provided a $280,000 gift to the college.

PHOTO COURTESY OF JAMES G. HILL, PCC - Tom and Chris Neilsen of Portland stand in the library at PCC's Sylvania Campus. A $280,000 gift from Tom and Chris Neilsen of Northwest Portland will provide hundreds of Portland Community College students with scholarships over the next 20 years.

The gift, the first of its kind for PCC, will be invested as a limited-term endowment to maximize the impact of the gift and will provide between $10,000 and $20,000 per year for PCC student scholarships.

The Neilsen's will take the required minimum distribution from their IRA, using the distributions for a longer term plan to support PCC students.

Longtime PCC Foundation supporters, the couple owned Neilsen Manufacturing Inc., a Salem-based family business serving the high-tech industry. After retiring to Portland in 2007, Chris Neilsen served on the PCC Foundation Board for five years and was appointed president for one term. She remains active with the philanthropic arm of the college and is a member of PCC Foundation's new Emeritus Board.

"We have been supporters of the Future Connect and scholarship programs at PCC, and we decided that because that work is very important to us and to our community, we wanted to support it more deeply," Chris Neilsen said. "For many years we have been donors to the community college in the area where we've lived: first in Salem, and now in Portland, because we believe community colleges are the absolute best investment. We believe Portland Community College is top-notch."

The Portland couple sought a way to significantly increase the returns from their philanthropic investment. As opposed to a traditional endowment that provides an average 4 percent return forever, the Tom and Chris Neilsen Impact Fund will divest in 20 years, allowing the college to see the benefit of larger awards over a shorter span of time.

"Every student story is an inspiration," she said. "Both of us are humbled by the persistence and desire by PCC students to make their lives better. We are proud to support them in accomplishing their dreams. And we know that as they do that, they impact their own families and the community positively."

The Neilsens are strong proponents of the PCC Foundation's Future Connect Program, which provides scholarships, in-depth advising and college success coaching to low-income and first-generation students. Scholars are guided through college, all the way to completion of a certificate or degree.

"The Neilsen's gift of education will change the lives of our students and their families for generations to come," said Ann Prater, executive director of the PCC Foundation. "The impact will be enormous."