One chance encounter and more than a decade of support

Sometimes you meet people who clearly walk their talk. Paul Hollie easily falls into that category. Since 2017, he’s led the Social Impact Program at Premera Blue Cross, an organization committed to making healthcare work better, in this case, by investing in behavioral health and health equity support systems. But Hollie’s interest in Rainier Scholars began a decade earlier, thanks to two individuals — one bright, hardworking fifth-grader and a mother determined to give him access to opportunities.

At Safeco Insurance Co., where Hollie led the company’s philanthropic and community and employee engagement programs, he encountered Syade Shields, the 11-year-old-son of colleague Nicolle Strong. Hollie learned that Nicolle was anxiously waiting to find out if Syade would be accepted into Rainier Scholars.

“I didn’t know what Rainier Scholars was,” admits Hollie. “I knew it had something to do with education and it seemed to be a good thing. I learned about it through the lens of a hopeful mother and her son. Syade would come into the office with his books and I could see how hard he was working. Nicolle talked about the sacrifices they made and the growth Syade had shown and I could see it for myself. I watched this young man blossom before my eyes.”

During his time at Safeco, Hollie was instrumental in securing grant and sponsorship funding for Rainier Scholars, support which continues under the auspices of the Liberty Mutual Foundation/Safeco Insurance Fund. He moved to Premera Blue Cross in late 2016, assuming responsibility for the company’s Social Impact Program the following year.  Under Hollie’s leadership, Premera has been a premier sponsor of Rainier Scholars’ annual luncheon since 2017 and hopes to attract college scholars to its summer internship program in 2020.

In building and deepening its burgeoning philanthropic program, Premera’s leadership decided to embrace a more impactful community-based strategy, primarily focused on health equity and behavioral health. “When you pull your insurance card out of your wallet, it means you have backing,” explains Hollie.  “This is just an extension of that type of support.  You know as a community member that the people backing your insurance are also backing your community, your neighbors and the world in which you live.”

As a first-generation college graduate, Rainier Scholars’ mission feels personal to Hollie.

“Rainier Scholars was built for a kid like me that had the ability, the support and the desire, but didn’t know the path.  My parents worked hard to make sure I had a good education, but they didn’t have the game plan laid out. They just knew that if they invested in my education, good things would happen. That’s what led me to where I am today.

“First generation college students, particularly kids of color, need guardrails. Rainier Scholars isn’t charity –it’s guidance and structure. It’s more than just about education, it’s also about access and community. Rainier Scholars makes students feel a part of something larger than themselves.”

Hollie has remained in touch with Nicolle and Syade, who graduated from Morehouse College in 2018. Syade is pursuing a career on the business side of the music industry and also has entrepreneurial aspirations. “Thanks to Rainier Scholars, Syade has the tools to be successful,” says Hollie. “As parents and community members, that’s what we want for our kids.”