"Dear American Taxpayers, My name is Keira Sloan Scholz, I am 23 years old. I am a daughter of a prostitute, meth-addicted, uneducated single mother of six children. Since 1987, you have supported me as you paid your taxes. You are the sole reason I am alive today. I am writing to thank you for doing it. I hope this message gets to you all."
It started as a Thanksgiving blog entry, but Springville resident Keira Scholz's thank-you letter to all taxpayers has generated media coverage on sites as far away as Florida. The former Orem High School student is now a happily married mother of a toddler and pursuing a psychology degree at Utah Valley University. Tampa Bay Times columnist Robyn Blumner featured Scholz and her story when she came across the blog post and was inspired to share the letter.
"I composed it after learning of other's worse conditions around the world. I realized that although I had a difficult upbringing, I had much more to be thankful for," Scholz said. "An immense feeling of gratitude overcame me as I numbered the many privileges I have had in America as a child. From a school bus ride to a guardian ad litem, I was cared for and protected when my parent could not do that for me."
Scholz focused her letter on giving credit to American taxpayers for her current circumstances and opportunities, thanking good foster parents, public assistance programs and volunteer services.
Her letter continued, "I was fed nutritious food and vitamin-fortified cereals to keep malnourishment at bay thanks to the Women, Infants and Children program. My mother learned how to provide varied meals for my growing body because of the resources and education offered by the program. Later in life, I entirely subsisted on the meals provided by food stamps as my source of food at home. But at school, I was offered a free breakfast and lunch, and sometimes that was my only meal for the day. I would have starved without this charity. At times, especially around holidays, even that wasn't enough, so I wanted to thank you for donating to places like the local food bank, which always helped us get through the holidays.
"Sometimes we could not afford to heat our home -- and state-run and funded programs paid for our warmth in the winter. Sometimes we could not afford non-food items, such as diapers, toilet paper, shampoo or toothpaste -- but various churches and volunteer programs such as Bikers Against Child Abuse or The Children's Justice Center would always step in and they were always willing to help a family in need. At times we could not afford new clothes, but thanks to places like the Salvation Army and Deseret Industries, we never went without a pair of shoes."
Food stamps and food banks may have kept her alive, but for Scholz, writing a letter to her unknown benefactor -- the American taxpayer -- demonstrated her ability to express gratitude where many would wallow in self-pity.
"It helped me overcome my bitterness about my past by instead looking back with gratitude. I empathized with my mother more, and forgave her for her human mistakes. Seeing the overwhelmingly positive responses to my letter as it spread helped me feel like I did the right thing by sharing my story," Scholz said.
Some readers who haven't taken the time to follow the link to her entire story assume she continues to take advantage of social programs. Despite qualifying for assistance programs, she and her husband have managed to live "like all poor college couples do" and work their way through school without asking the taxpayers for more.
"I hope people will remember that even though adults can and do make mistakes with the welfare system, the children are worth remembering. I also wanted to show that it was not just WIC or food stamps that fed us. We benefited greatly from Sub-for-Santa, The Salvation Army, local food banks and many others. Hopefully the taxpayers will feel appreciated and continue to donate their time and resources, as they have generously in the past, to children like me," she said. Scholz was asked to speak at UVU's annual Hunger Banquet on Thursday. The purpose of the banquet is to raise funds for the nonprofit Utahns Against Hunger.
"The Hunger Banquet provides participants with an excellent opportunity to become better educated about poverty issues in our area so that they can become part of the solution," said Laura Christopherson, program coordinator for UVU's Volunteer & Service-Learning Center. "Through a night of education and awareness, UVU students and community members will have the opportunity not only to learn about local poverty issues, but also to find out about ways to get engaged in initiatives to end poverty. One in every 50 UVU students is homeless, and 12.8 percent of people living in Utah County are living below the poverty level."
According to Alexis Palmer, director of the UVU Service and Learning Center who is assisting the students who planned the event, Scholz was a perfect choice to address a crowd already committed to providing help to end hunger.
"Keira was chosen by our student service council after learning about her story," Palmer said. "We were looking for a speaker who had some experience with hunger in Utah, which is our focus for this year's fundraiser."
"I am honored that my message reached them and they found it inspiring enough to ask me to be a guest at their event," Scholz said. "Since so many other organizations besides governmental ones aided me in my childhood, I would love to further their cause and keep hunger here and around the world at bay."
Find her letter at www.nickandkeira.blogspot.com/2011/11/dear-american-taxpayers.html.