Kacey Hampton, BA ’11, barely had time to frame the diploma his adoptive father, Greg, had been so proud of him earning when he got the call that Greg had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. Greg began chemotherapy almost immediately and underwent various treatments after receiving the news, but within a year, the vibrant and caring man who had been a transformative force in Kacey’s life had passed away.
For Kacey, it was unnerving to have Greg’s huge presence gone so quickly. But, while undergoing treatment, Greg sat Kacey down and outlined a request for continuing the legacy of giving and outreach that had defined much of his life while giving Kacey a more in-depth experience with giving back. Greg’s wish was for Kacey to spearhead the Gregory H. Hampton Charitable Fund of the Greater St. Louis Community Foundation, and find a way to distribute $1 million that he had set aside to help the community. Greg wanted Kacey to use the money to support projects and causes that have an immediate, positive impact on communities and individuals. The organizations that would benefit from the Foundation were left to Kacey’s discretion. It was with Greg’s request and the desire to pay forward the care and immeasurable impact his adoptive father had on his life, that Kacey approached Webster University to establish the Annual and Endowed Gregory Hampton Leadership Scholarships.
“The scholarship is definitely in honor of what he did for me, and a thank you to Webster for what they did for me as well,” Kacey said. The Foundation has supported projects all over the world, ranging from teaching English in the Dominican Republic to providing assistance to military families. Along with his uncle, Joel Hampton, and a faith leader, Benny Clark, Kacey has been serving on the board and administering the Foundation since July 2012. Currently, they are exploring how they can help rebuild a community center just outside of Grand Center in St. Louis. The overarching criteria Kacey, Joel and Benny use when selecting projects to support is that the cause honors the spirit of Greg’s service, and the money provides opportunities that, otherwise, might not be available to the people or communities the organization serves.
Service and opportunity were important to Greg, and were ideals that defined him to so many people - especially Kacey. Kacey was 2 years old when he and his half-brother were placed for adoption. The family they were placed with in Vail, CO, had a close relationship with Greg, and asked him to serve as the boys’ godfather. From that point on, Greg became a constant source of support for both boys, even after they moved into the care of other families. In 1997, the family they were living with separated, and the boys were split apart. Kacey’s brother went to live with birth relatives, and Kacey was faced with a cross-country move to Alaska with his birth mother. Greg had the choice to adopt Kacey, or watch as he was separated from him and everyone he’d ever known. For Greg the decision was easy, and within six months Kacey officially became a Hampton.
Greg had been traveling the world since a young age, and even more so after retiring around the age of 40. After his adoption, Kacey was able to join him on these adventures. Every summer, Greg planned imaginative trips that took them all over the world, and kept the destinations a surprise for young Kacey until they set off. One summer, Greg instilled his love of baseball in Kacey while they made treks to 12 Major League Baseball stadiums. Another summer, they traveled to every house Greg had lived in while growing up. Even as a young boy, it struck Kacey that everywhere they went, they met someone who counted Greg among their closest friends and had a story about how he’d impacted their lives.
“What we do kind of embodies what Greg was,” Kacey said about the foundation started in Greg’s memory. “He was a very caring, outreaching person and there wouldn’t be a soul he wouldn’t want to help and interact with.”
Greg embodied the spirit of friendship and service and introduced Kacey to those concepts early. When Kacey reached middle school, Greg told him he needed to find something to do, a way to give back. After exploring a few options, Kacey began volunteering once a week at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. During his time at the hospital Kacey came to understand more fully Greg’s passion for helping others. Kacey continued to volunteer there through high school, bringing families waiting outside the ICU the first hot meal they might have had in days, and doing what he could to help ease hospital stays for patients. During his time at Poudre Valley, Kacey also decided he wanted work in the healthcare industry. It was the ability to help people that drew him in, and ultimately sparked his interest in the business side of medicine.
After graduating from high school, Kacey enrolled in the business management program at Webster and focused his studies on health care administration. He was attracted to Webster because of the small class sizes, and the diversity he saw on campus. Kacey says Webster’s close-knit community enriched his experience and provided greater opportunities for him. In particular, his adviser in the Association for African American Collegians was instrumental in helping him become a leader, and during his time as president she helped him hone skills in a way that could not have been achieved inside a classroom alone. He also credits his experience with the AAAC with developing a deeper connection with himself and the African- American community.
“I came from Fort Collins, CO, a place that isn’t really as diverse as St Louis. I think by being able to participate in an organization like that I learned a great deal about the African-American community, a great deal about what diversity means in the community, and about some of the things that impact it,” Kacey said.
When Greg presented Kacey with the opportunity to give back, he immediately knew he wanted to find a way to facilitate the same experience he had at Webster for other students. “I met a lot of wonderful people,” Kacey said, “and a couple of them had to drop out because they didn’t have the financial assistance.”
Kacey was keenly aware that Greg’s support was critical not only to his ability to attend college but also to participate in the organizations that shaped his learning outside the classroom. That’s why Kacey felt it was important the scholarship be named in honor of his adoptive father. “Greg was really strong with me in making sure I got through college,” he said. “He gave me a great opportunity not only to go to college but also to avoid the debt that others acquire, so I didn’t think it was right to have my name on that.”
In the fall of 2014, just shy of the 17th anniversary of Kacey’s adoption, the first Gregory Hampton Leadership Scholar, Jasmine Ball, began classes at Webster University. The scholarship supports a local high school student with demonstrated financial need who increases the diversity on campus, and who demonstrates the potential for leadership at the collegiate level. The scholarship encourages recipients to serve other students through the Multicultural Center and International Student Affairs Office, or another student organization.
Jasmine was a senior at Hazelwood East High School, planning to start Webster in the fall to study Early Childhood Education, when she received an email saying she qualified for the scholarship. She was invited to apply with an essay about herself, and how she would change her community with her education. Her essay outlined ideas she had for opening a preschool and after-care program in her neighborhood, Bellefontaine Neighbors and Spanish Lake in North St. Louis County. Her essay included ideas on program components she wants to include to help students develop life skills not taught in the classroom, like cooking and gardening.
Jasmine said the scholarship had a big impact on her first year at Webster. With fewer loans, she could afford to live on campus and afford a meal plan. “I believe living on campus is a great opportunity, especially if it’s your first year leaving home, Jasmine said.” Living in the dorms helped Jasmine develop friendships she might not have otherwise, and she says her experience made her a better person because it gave her broader perspective and opened her mind. Campus living also gave her the freedom to be involved in the Student Government Association and the AAAC. The proximity to the library provided more study time, and she was able to attend events she might have missed if she had to commute from home.
Jasmine’s experience is exactly what Kacey hoped the scholarship money would provide for students. By alleviating some of the financial burden that acts as a barrier to staying in college, or requires students to exit the classroom and head straight to a job to pay tuition, Kacey hopes scholarship recipients can become active leaders and experience all that Webster has to offer. He also hopes the scholarship will continue to grow the diversity that attracted him to Webster from the very beginning.
“I also think it’s a thank you to Webster for doing a great job, too. And I want them to continue to do a great job,” Kacey said.
Since graduating, Kacey has been working at BJC in project management and strategy. As one of the youngest members of the Daniel Webster Society, an organization that recognizes those who invest in athletic, academic and faculty development at Webster, Kacey has paid forward some of the generosity of his adoptive father to two students. Those students, in turn, are paying it forward through campus involvement and mentoring. While the scholarship is a way to preserve the memory and principles that Greg and Kacey shared, Kacey also sees it as a way of preserving and promoting the rich experience only Webster can provide.