J.W. Darden Foundation, Inc., started in 2001, is based on the legacy of Dr. John Wesley Darden, the first black physician to serve Opelika, Alabama. The Foundation recently held its annual Legacy Gala at the Auburn-Opelika Marriott at Grand National. The Darden Foundation perpetuates his mission through operating a wellness Center and offering scholarships to deserving Advance Health/Medical Degree students. The funds for these activities are generated through the Annual Black Tie Legacy Gala.

The first scholarship was awarded in January 2014. A cash award is presented annually to out-standing students enrolled in a post-graduate health degree (Medicine, Advance Practice Nursing, Pharmacy, or Physical Therapy). Criteria for the awarding of a scholarship are academic success, volunteer activities, character and a commitment to serve the underserved in the East Alabama area.

Christine Skinner received a 2022 scholarship from the Foundation. Skinner is a first-year nurse practitioner student in the Auburn University College of Nursing. She has excelled in academics with a 4.0 average and her letters of support describe her as being not only bright, but highly motivated to help others achieve improved care outcomes. Skinner was also described as a natural leader who goes beyond what is asked of her to help others. Dr. Darden would have certainly appreciated her compassion as a provider working with him.

The pandemic put a hold on several events in 2021. The Foundation was not able to hold its Gala but did want to honor and support students in health care through scholarships. Chris Martin who is working on a Ph.D. in Nursing and is a faculty member in the Auburn College of Nursing, was the recipient of a 2021 Darden Foundation scholarship. He has won many awards including the Auburn University Black Alumni Achievement Award and Best Faculty award in the college. Martin is committed to meeting the needs of the underserved in the area. He lives his life following the words of Jesus – to whom much is given, much is required. He has passion and skill in engaging nursing students and seeks to be a leader in developing the diverse nursing workforce that patients need and deserve.

Dr. J.W. Darden, the first African American physician to practice in our community, lives on today through the programs that honor his legacy. The Wellness Center stands as a testimony to that legacy and to the collaborative efforts and partnership of the EAMC Parish Nurses, the Auburn University College of Nursing, and the J.W. Darden Foundation. The Center is dedicated to improving the health of the community — insured, under-insured and those without insurance. It offers health screening and health education to assist patients through the healthcare system, resources and providers. The mission of this FREE program is to promote healthy lifestyles, and to provide health education, with the goal of reducing health care costs and improving the health of our community.

For more information on the scholarship awards, contact Dr. Kathy Jo Ellison at elliskj@auburn.edu.