The Coutts & Clark Western Foundation made a massive contribution to the Fort Lewis College Student Health Center, which provides health care to students at a minimal cost. The gift, totaling $150,000, will support women’s reproductive health on campus and fund other innovative care offered at the Student Health Center.
None of this would have been possible without Candice Carson, the president of the Coutts & Clark Western Foundation board of trustees. In 2001, Carson, her sister Penny O'Keefe, and her nephews Bill Carson and Jim Weber created the foundation to improve equity for underserved populations.
Carson also has deep ties with the institution as a member of the FLC Foundation Board and believes in FLC’s student-centered mission.
“One of the best ways to aid academic success in higher education is to invest in women,” Carson said. “When women can be economically self-sufficient and have agency over their bodies, the whole world benefits.”
Carson has been a staunch advocate for women’s reproductive rights and an avid supporter of FLC students.
The Student Health Center had worked with Carson in the past and, in 2019, received a grant from Coutts & Clark for $5,000 for sexual and reproductive health care. The Student Health Center creatively utilized every dollar to sustain its broad range of services.
Because of this, Carson was wildly impressed with the Student Health Center, and when she was incensed by the recent Dobbs v. Jackson decision this summer—she decided to give big.
An upstream approach
With Carson’s enormous gift, the staff at the Student Health Center can continue purchasing further birth control options, sex education materials, and STD/STI testing. Students can access these services with a $25 consultation fee, taking the pressure off of them to otherwise travel long distances for care.
“Many of our students have no insurance or have to travel to an Indian Health Service clinic to obtain care,” said Cate Fenster, a nurse practitioner with the Student Health Center. “That’s been a barrier for a lot of our students.”
In addition to convenience, the Student Health Center prioritizes students’ well-being outside of their offices. To that end, some funds will also be directed to more holistic services like mental health care.
“These issues intertwine with one another,” said Rene Klotz, clinical director of the Student Health Center. “Some students need mental health and reproductive health services.”
The Student Health Center has an integrated referral system with the FLC Counseling Center to provide medication and psychotherapy, and their augmented ability to provide these services will help ensure the retention and further success of college students.
“It’s undoubtedly going to increase student success,” Fenster said. “These students can learn how to take care of their bodies, access contraceptives, and take control of their health.”
The gift from Coutts & Clark Western Foundation will help the Student Health Center continue to realize its mission of providing FLC students access to health care without worrying about the cost.
One of the ways the Student Health Center tackles this is by purchasing long-acting reversible contraceptives like IUDs. IUDs, however, are cost-prohibitive for students as they can sometimes sell for $1,000 a device.
With help from the Coutts & Clark Western Foundation, the Student Health Center can continue to keep costs on devices like IUDs low.
“With these funds, we can help these students stay in school. They won’t have issues with costs that take their focus away from academics,” Klotz said.
“Because of that, we’re floored by the generosity of this gift.”
"Candice is amazing. It is so great to donate like that, and she does. I think it's inspiring, too, because she's got a vision and can back it significantly."
The path forward
The amount will be disbursed in $50,000 increments over three years. Since August, the FLC Student Health Center has spent $33,000 in seven weeks. This funding comes at a critical time as sexual health-related student visits increased by 70% from 280 to 400 last year alone.
The grant will amplify the long-spanning efforts of the Student Health Center in preventing unplanned pregnancies and disease outbreaks on campus, both of which place severe pressure on students and hinder their academic success.
Carson hopes other donors will be called to action and see the value of investing in FLC students.
“One of the fun things about working with FLC has been meeting students. It gives one such hope for the future when you meet these bright young women,” Carson said.
“And it seems as if it's such a dark time for our democracy, but being near these thinkers who are idealistic about what can be done in the world—it inspires you.”