Jim Ayers and his wife Janet began the Ayers Foundation in 1999.
Janet Ayers serves as the foundation's president.
LINDEN, Tenn. -
Perry County students learned on Wednesday college scholarships are now available for all high school graduates.
The surprise announcement came on Wednesday from a local husband and wife who want to help further the students' education.
"We're bringing the full Ayers Foundation scholarships to Perry County," said local banker and philanthropist Jim Ayers.
His announcement, which will provide every student in the school system with scholarships valued at $16,000 over four years, drew cheers and whistles from 300 students who were attendance at the announcement.
Along with the announcement, Ayers offered some advice that he hopes is more valuable than money.
"I can't do it for ya' ," said Ayers in the Tennessee River drawl familiar to the area.
"Your parents can't do it for you, and as you are going through high school, you got to do it yourself," he said while pointing at the students.
The seniors who are just days from graduation suddenly learned they will have much more money for their next chapter in education.
"I had no idea this was going to happen," said Garrett Hill who hopes to play college football.
Hill continued, "The opportunity it gives me and my fellow classmates, it's just huge."
Many students in Perry County kids come from homes where parents lost jobs when a local auto supply plant shut down more than three years ago.
"We have a lot of unemployment here, so it's going to help out," said senior Brittany Warren who was on her way to fill out scholarship forms.
Jim Ayers is no stranger to Perry County with a father born there, a home in the area and a branch of the FirstBank he owns in the county seat of Linden.
As he got hugs and handshakes after the assembly, he told Nashville's News 2 he knew many folks who always wished they had gone to college, but there was no money.
"Now there is money for these kids, and no excuses not to go," said Ayers, adding, "Education opened doors for me, and it will for them."
When asked what he has given already to education in Tennessee, Ayers said at least $30 million dollars.
His wife Janet serves as the president of the Ayers Foundation.
"When we start this program, that means we are here forever," she told Nashville's News 2 after the Perry County assembly.
The Ayers started their foundation in 1999, making similar scholarships available in nearby Decatur and Henderson counties.
"They are able to go to college or technical school or community college and not have to be in debt," continued Janet Ayer.
"And we don't stop with just the scholarship, we have career counselors available to the kids as well," she added.
Perry County High principal Mike Rhodes may have put it best after Wednesday's announcement when he told his students, "Your lives have changed today."
For more information on the Ayer Foundation, visit their Web site.
Wednesday, May 22 2013 7:21 PM EDT2013-05-22 23:21:11 GMT
The Oklahoma schools hit by the tornado probably struck close to the heart of every parent. Many wondered where their own children would go if they were in the path of a tornado. In Metro Nashville schoolsMore >>
Inner, windowless first floor hallways are the key to severe weather school safety.More >>