Amish Descendant Scholarship Fund Presentation at Symposium: How Our Amish Heritage Influences Our Education and Career


Photo of Naomi Kramer Yoder: Photo credit: Callie Wiser

Today I bring you the third blog post in the series about the symposium of this past Saturday, June 8.

I had mentioned in my blog post on Sunday that Naomi Kramer did a presentation at the symposium on Saturday. It is hard to portray a PowerPoint presentation in a blog post, but I will do my best.

For those who have seen the 2014 PBS film, The Amish: Shunned on American Experience, you may feel like you know Naomi. I know I did, so when she said to me, “It’s so nice to finally meet you,” I did a double-take. I suddenly realized we hadn’t met, even though I feel like I know her. She is just as warm and articulate (even more so) in person as she was in the film.

Naomi began her presentation with introducing the founders of the ADSFund, starting with herself.

Naomi Kramer Yoder is the mother of four children and lives in Indiana. She has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Goshen College. She has been a nurse for 12 years, and is currently a nurse at a birthing center. She attends home births and offers Monitrice (birth doula) services. Many of the births she attends are with Amish women, so she converses with them in their native Pennsylvania Dutch.

Naomi is currently in graduate school to become a Certified Nurse Midwife.

(Goshen College did a beautiful profile of Naomi’s education journey. You can learn more about her by following this link.)

Emma Miller has a Bachelors Degree in Economics from San Diego State, and a MSc in Economics from London Metropolitan. She lives in London and works in renewable energy in developing markets, mostly in Africa.

(I wrote a profile of Emma’s educational journey back in 2012. This story includes how the idea for ADSFund was born. You can read it by following this link.)

Next Naomi summarized the challenges those who leave an Amish community face in furthering their formal education:

  • Eighth-grade education
  • Students cannot live at home while they are studying
  • Lack of exposure to others who have gone to college
  • Lack of emotional support from family
  • Lack of financial support
  • Government financial aid (FAFSA) expects parental support until students are aged 26. Most Amish parents won’t provide the details to fill out the form.

Naomi provided a brief history of ADSFund:

  • ADSFund was founded in 2011 by Naomi Kramer Yoder and Emma Miller to provide financial and emotional support, inspire former Amish to consider going to college, and show that other former Amish have earned their degrees.
  • While the founders were studying in college, they checked online multiple times for Amish scholarship funds and found none, so they decided to start ADSF.
  • The first $2,000 was gifted in 2012 from a fundraiser in Indiana. Since then, ADSF scholarships are largely funded by a regular donor who does not want to be named.

Eligibility criteria for ADSFund:

  • Grew up Amish
  • Parents are still Amish (as these students are in the highest need of support)
  • Studying at an accredited college or university
  • Bachelors Degree (Added a Masters in 2022)
  • First-time applicants receive a larger award, though students are encouraged to apply annually

Selection process:

  • Applicants fill out a form and provide proof of registry at their university and their grades to date
  • Students write out a brief essay about their educational journey so far and why they want to study
  • The ADSF founders review the applications and decline any that don’t fit the criteria (there are usually a few each year)
  • Funds are distributed among the remaining applicants
  • Don’t discriminate based on grades or performance in college — often those who have children or work full time struggle to keep their grades up, and their need for financial needs are high

Scholarships to date:

  • 104 applications in 11 years
  • 90 were eligible at the time
  • $223,500 has been gifted since launching ADSFund in 2012
  • Scholarships range from $1,000 to $7,500 (depending on how many applicants)

Naomi presented the following graph to show the fields of study followed by a graph of applicants by gender and year:


Next Naomi presented a challenge for ADSFund. Applications have slowly declined. She presented the following for discussion:

  • Are fewer former Amish able to study?
  • Are the founders not reaching them as before? (Much less active on social media than earlier on)
  • There is a marked reduction in male applicants since Covid. Why?
  • Is this scholarship fund still needed?

The Future of ADSF — Ideal Scenario:

  • ADSF becomes a registered non-profit (501-c3)
  • ADSF becomes sustainable by raising enough funds to create an endowment, which is invested, and spends interest earnings on annual scholarship funds.
  • A tax specialist is paid to do annual reporting on the fund.
  • A non-paid board of trustees manage the application process and make other decisions

Intermediate Scenario:

Current founders are open to stepping down if there are others with the skillset and bandwidth to take ADSF to the next stage (we are both busy and do this on the side)

The discussion following Naomi’s presentation was engaging. There were several (including myself) who feel it is important to continue the fund. One attendee suggested that by registering it as a non-profit, they would be listed as a non-profit in many places, which could by itself give them more exposure.

It was thought that enrollment was down in colleges and universities across the country, especially in some of the demographics that effect former Amish, such as first-generation students, and that perhaps the drop in applications for ADSF scholarships is a reflection of that.

Another part of the discussion centered around the lonely road from an eighth-grade education to college, which is where the idea came from to create a “stand-in family” for those who are going to college. Luella Gilbert suggested sending care packages because when she was going to college, her reaction to a friend receiving one was “a care package, what’s that?”

Since then I have also presented the idea to the group that we could potentially create a mentorship program in which those of us who have gone through college could become a mentor to a student (or students) going through college now. We can send care packages, provide a place for them to stay during the holidays, be there for their graduation, and support them in all other ways that families ideally do. Most symposium attendees have asked to count them in on this idea.

I hope more students who need it will discover the ADSFund, apply, and feel supported in their journey through college. Let’s make this happen by spreading the word. You can go to their website: Amish Scholarship, where you can donate, apply for a scholarship, or send out a link to someone who can benefit from the support ADSF offers.

Please share a link to this post as far and wide as you like. Thank you!

And thanks to Naomi and Emma for founding the Amish Descendant Scholarship Fund and helping students find their way through college. There were several at the symposium on Saturday who have benefited from the scholarship.

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  1. Deb Horst on June 14, 2024 at 7:44 pm

    My parents were born and raised in the Amish church and left when they were in their 20’s with three small children. My father became a skilled carpenter with his own house building business and work crew. When I (surprise kid #5) was four, my mother, then 35, obtained her GED and went to school to get her LPN degree. Both of my parents overcame the obstacle of limited education to gain skills and knowledge and have successful careers. Thank you for this information; I have shared a link on social media.

    • Saloma Furlong on June 14, 2024 at 8:31 pm

      Hello Deb, it’s great to see you here! I remember having a conversation with you in Harrisonburg about your parents. I’m so glad they overcame the obstacles and did well for themselves (and it sounds like for you and your siblings as well).

      Thanks for sharing the link!

  2. Bruce Stambaugh on June 14, 2024 at 8:40 pm

    Regarding the decrease in applicants, I wonder if enough students have received financial assistance and attended college that the word is out among the Amish. Consequently, has the program’s success been its unintended downfall due to the Amish communication system? Nevertheless, creating a non-profit organization would increase financial support and should be pursued.

    • Saloma Furlong on June 14, 2024 at 11:00 pm

      Bruce, that is a good question. Somehow I’m not thinking that is the case. We were talking about this the other day. It seems those who leave and pursue an education tend to be those who felt alone when they left. Today there are many who leave and are supported by those who left before them to “catch them, so it’s like they have a ready-made community already. Often the new community doesn’t have an emphasis on education.

      For those of us who leave the community on our own, we have to learn to become self-reliant pretty quickly. And we learn who we are separate from our community. If a young person trades one community for another, then they tend not to be independent thinkers as much as those who leave on their own.

      Plus college enrollment is down in many demographics, which is likely effecting the former Amish. Young people today are afraid of getting into debt for their college education. And who can blame them when those of our children borrowed money are still paying it back many years later?

      That said, it would be interesting to survey former Amish and find out what their thinking is about pursuing a college education and find out if they (or their parents) knew about ADSF, and if so, how they felt about it.

      Thanks for your comments.

  3. Janeen Breyman on June 15, 2024 at 7:00 pm

    I recognized Naomi right away from the documentary. So good to catch up with how her future played out. Thank you for all the links. Saloma, you are doing such a good job with this series. Thank you!🥰

  4. Saloma Furlong on June 15, 2024 at 10:47 pm

    Why, Janeen, thank you for your affirming comments.

    Naomi is a pleasure to get to know.

    I hope to see you here again sometime.

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