Las Cruces family establishes endowed scholarship on anniversary of car crash
Angela Kocherga, Albuquerque Journal Published 11:21 a.m. MT Nov. 27, 2018
This week’s #GivingTuesday falls on the exact date eight years ago when a car crash left Matt Olson with a traumatic brain injury and changed his family’s lives forever.
But inspired by the progress the Las Cruces father has made and the dedication of student speech therapists, the Olson family established a $25,000 endowed scholarship Tuesday at New Mexico State University for graduate students who help patients like him.
“The beauty of the program is that every semester we get a new teacher,” said Patty Olson, Matt’s wife, noting he gets speech therapy twice a week at NMSU. “We get somebody who is excited about learning in their field.”
#GivingTuesday, observed each year on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving, was established in 2012 as a way to mark the start of the charitable giving season. It encourages people to give to the charity of their choice.
NMSU opened a giving headquarters at Corbett Center’s Aggie Lounge, where it will match donations up to $500 per household to the Matt’s Journey Endowed Scholarship and others at the university. Donations can also be made online.
“It’s to inspire all of our donors, anyone, our students, our alumni, our friends at any level anywhere on campus,” said Leslie Cervantes, NMSU associate vice president for alumni engagement and participation.
In 2010, a head-on collision injured Matt, his wife and two children.
“We’re so lucky he’s alive, and he’s lucky he’s able to do some of the things he can,” said Patty Olson.
Matt Olson sustained a traumatic brain injury that makes it difficult for the 51-year-old to speak. During therapy he is learning to speak slower, enunciate and focus his attention during conversations.
Prior to the accident, he was employed as a partner at a Las Cruces insurance agency.
“To see what’s happened to them that day and where Matt is now, that therapy has been a real value to their family, just a blessing all the way around,” said Cervantes, who has become a family friend. Both of the Olsons’ children are NMSU students. According to his family, Olson “loves to make people laugh” and in his free time reads about New Mexico history.
The Matt’s Journey Endowed Scholarship will help students in NMSU’s Department of Communication Disorders, which has been doing community outreach for more than 50 years.
Each student works with patients under the supervision of an NMSU clinical educator licensed in the state as a speech-language pathologist.
“Graduate students receive training so they may provide therapy in a variety of specialties, including traumatic brain injury, like what Matt is dealing with, as well as autism, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, child developmental delay, speech disorder and others,” said Alfred Valdez, interim department head, in a news release announcing the endowment.
“Through this scholarship, the Olsons are not just supporting students, but also the thousands of lives each of those students will touch and change once they graduate from NMSU and work in the community.”