Rieves Family Endowment Provides Much Needed Support to FSU's Student Disability Resource Center
Following his time spent attending Florida State University, J.T. Rieves began working at his local Home Depot stocking hardware. Now, after nearly 30 years with the company, he serves as vice president of Pro Business—a role that allows him to give back both personally and professionally.
Rieves has always had a heart for service and a desire to positively impact the lives of others. He says he inherited his giving spirit from his parents, who were dedicated to making a difference in their community. In addition to seeing them serve as educators, Rieves grew up watching his father regularly volunteer at a physical therapy center and his mother serve as a cuddler for newborns at a local hospital.
Because of their professions, Rieves’ parents didn’t always have the means to make large monetary contributions, but what they lacked in financial capabilities they made up for in sweat equity.
“They didn’t have much, but they were always a fabulous example,” Rieves said. “They couldn’t donate money, so they donated their time.
“We talk a lot about sweat equity here at Home Depot. It has a lot to do with our culture. People who are able to donate money can and feel good about it. But lending your time, sweat equity, brings you closer and makes you feel even better.”
For years, Rieves followed in his parents’ footsteps, donating his time by serving on the board of a small school where his father attended, but he felt something was missing. Though his contributions were making a difference—the school’s enrollment increased from 400 students to 1,000 during his time on the board—he didn’t feel a connection to the work he was doing.
“Talking about everything my parents did, I felt like I had to do more because I paled in comparison to them,” Rieves said. “I was doing the right thing, but I realized I wasn’t connected in my heart. I talked to my wife about it and we had this epiphany about what we should do with our money.”
Rieves and his wife, Lisa, decided they wanted to help students similar to their son, Max, who was diagnosed with dyslexia during his sophomore year at Florida State University. After his diagnosis, Max turned to the university’s Student Disability Resource Center for help.
Rieves explains his son was struggling to keep up with his coursework and was on the verge of having to transfer, but with the help of the SDRC he was able to graduate in 2017 with his degree in hospitality management.
“In his freshman and sophomore year, his GPA hovered around a 2.8, but after his work with the disability center, he maintained a 3.0-3.5 GPA,” Rieves said. “He worked with note takers and test helpers, and without them he wouldn’t have been there.”
J.T. and Lisa felt compelled to help other students who utilize the SDRC’s resources and services, so they reached out to the university and inquired about funding possibilities, and in 2016, the Rieves Family Endowment was established.
With the family’s $50,000 contribution matched by Home Depot, the $100,000 endowment will provide essential funding for students who utilize the Student Disability Resource Center and its services. The SDRC serves as an advocate for Florida State students with disabilities, and ensures they have academic accommodations, testing support, assistive technologies and coaching.
According to Shelley Ducatt, Ph.D., associate dean and director of the Student Disability Resource Center, the scholarships funded by the Rieves Family Endowment will help support students with learning disabilities, with a preference given to out-of-state students.
She explains that many out-of-state students with disabling conditions who hold jobs are unable to work as many as hours as their peers because they require more time to study. With the support of scholarships, Ducatt says these students will be able to place a greater focus on academics, giving them a better chance to succeed.
“For most students, once they find the SDRC they have a place where they feel comfortable,” Ducatt said. “We understand their daily struggles. We can provide a listening ear in terms of challenges they may face. We know all of our students have goals with dreams and hopes for the future. Here at the center, we work to help them accomplish these goals.”
Rieves says he is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to support the SDRC and the hardworking students it serves, because he knows, like Max, many of them would not be able to continue their studies without the assistance.
“We have a picture of Max that we took when he was 6 years old in Doak Campbell Stadium,” Rieves said. “We took another picture with him there in his cap and gown when he graduated. It choked me up because without the disability center he wouldn’t have been graduating from FSU. I wish I had more money to give, but I’m glad I can do what I can. I definitely think my mom and dad are smiling.”