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WATCH: Former teacher donates scholarships through selling pens

Millennial Making a Difference by Courtney Edwards | June 13, 2022 at 4:05 a.m.
Shawn Newton writes with one of his handmade fountain pens. – Photo by Courtney Edwards of The Sentinel-Record.

When Shawn Newton graduated from Lakeside High School, he didn't think college was an option for him.

"I didn't have any plans or hopes of going to college," he said. "I couldn't afford it, my grades weren't good enough for scholarships and my parents made $50 too much for me to qualify for a Pell Grant."

His life changed forever when his friend's mother gave him the money for his college education. He attended National Park College for two years, and a few years later started attending Henderson State University where he received his bachelor's degree in Education.

Newton taught art to kindergarten through sixth-grade students for two years at Centerpoint, while living in Hot Springs and commuting to Amity, he said. He then taught seventh-graders through high school seniors at Mountain Pine High School for around five years.

As an artist, he loved to draw. He loved the first fountain pen his wife, Elizabeth, bought him, he said. It gave him the ability to draw "different line widths."

He started buying more until he eventually had an entire collection. He collected so many pens that he started giving them away to students, but soon realized some of the cheaper pens broke easily.

Fountain pens sell for anywhere from around $5 to thousands of dollars, Newton said. His pens now sell for between $150 and $500.

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He wanted to start making more durable pens, but he needed the equipment so he started a kick-starter project, asking for around $800, he said, noting, "It made $1,000 in the first hour."

The kick-starter earned Newton a total of $4,300, according to his website.

Newton's pens started out as a "buy a pen, give a pen" project, in which he would give a free pen to a student for every pen he sold.

"I was just hanging out sitting on the computer one night, and I was thinking about how I went to college and I thought, you know, it would be cool if I could pay this lady back," he said.

"So, I came up with a scholarship thing. At first, it was like a raffle thing. You would buy a number and then at the end of every month, I would randomly pick somebody, make a custom pen for them and however much money I raised that month would go into a bank account."

Newton retired after around four years of making fountain pens.

"The third year doing pens part-time while teaching full-time, I made about three times more with pens than I did teaching," he said.

Newton Pens Scholarships is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that has given away more than $68,000 in scholarships to students all over the U.S. since 2013, his website says.

This year, the organization raised around $15,000, Newton said. The amount given to the students depends from year to year, but Newton tries to stick with at least $1,000, he said.

"Whatever we raised by the end of that school year, every bit of it goes to scholarships," he said.

Newton Pens Scholarships received 106 applications this year.

"We're bound to have at least 15 we can give $1,000 to," he said.

Part of the application process is submitting essays, which are evaluated by Newton as well as his wife and friends.

"It's so much fun reading a lot of the essays that the kids write," Newton said. "Some of the stories they tell are amazing. It's really cool getting to get that little bit of insight in their lives and it's really awesome to reward them with a little bit of money to help them with college."

  photo  Shawn Newton demonstrates how he makes fountain pens. – Photo by Courtney Edwards of The Sentinel-Record
  photo  Some of the pens Shawn Newton has handcrafted to raise money for 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, Newton Pens Scholarships. – Photo by Courtney Edwards of The Sentinel-Record

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