When Stacey Wenzel was a Las Positas College student applying for scholarships to help advance her education, she never dreamed it would change her life.
Last year, she was named the first beneficiary of the Laurel Alice Williams Foundation, named for the Foothill High School alumna who was killed in a drunk-driving car accident in October 2007. The scholarship was set to help a Las Positas student transferring to a four-year university who had dreams of being a positive influence on society, just as Williams had intended to do.
Wenzel, who grew up in Pleasanton and graduated from Amador Valley High School in 2006, was flipping through her Harvest Park Middle School yearbook to find that she and Williams had "starred" each other's picture to identify them as friends. While the two had drifted away after Williams had gone to Hart Middle School, Wenzel said she recalled reading about her former friend's death. She also remembers that about a year before, another of her friends had died in a drunk-driving accident on Foothill Road as well.
Part of the scholarship includes coming back to the area to promote the foundation and its mission to stop young people from driving drunk. As Wenzel became more involved, she got to know Laurel's parents Ken Williams and Kathy Pace Williams. She developed a relationship that she knows will last for a long time.
"Ken and Kathy and the board are so generous," she said. "(The experience has been) very personal. It's not just about the financial aspect, but the close relationship I have with them. It was unexpected."
As for Pace Williams, she considered it a "blessing in disguise" to have helped Wenzel advance her education.
"It was a true honor for my daughter to have (Wenzel) be our first selection for the first scholarship," Pace Williams said. "We will help her in any way that we can with her life endeavors, education and career. Her scope of compassion and life experience will help others, too, and hopefully she will continue Laurel's message."
Now attending UCLA, on track to graduate in 2011, Wenzel is majoring in communications. Combining her deep passion for human rights, she plans to one day work in public relations for a nonprofit. She also plans to put her skills to work by helping with the foundation, which may include setting up a blog on their website.
Scholarships such as this one enabled Wenzel to attend UCLA, a place she considered to be her "far off" dream school. Being able to achieve that dream has led her to aim high for others, such as attending MIT for graduate school.
"I thought, 'I can do this!,'" she said. "I can be on my own. It's given me more motivation."
This year, the foundation added another scholarship for a Foothill senior, in addition to helping another student at Las Positas. The awards are funded through donations as well as through the annual dinner and silent auction.
The next foundation dinner and silent auction will be from 6:30 to 11 p.m. May 8 at the Crow Canyon Country Club in Danville. Tickets are $80. Seating is limited and the RSVP deadline is April 26.
For more information, visit www.laurelalicefoundation.com.