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Lewis finds the kids again


Molly Kessler is another one of the amazing stories that have defined the Marvin Lewis Community Fund's college scholarship program.

It's that time of year.

The names and their essays flash across Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis' desk with the speed of a Giovani Bernard juke, each story better than the one before with the waves of potential going higher than an A.J. Green jump ball.

After interviews and references and cross-checks, months of preparation come to a screeching halt with a gut call and…

No, no, Mel Kiper breath. Not the NFL Draft.  The search for the five Marvin Lewis college scholarship winners, which always seems to yield blue chippers and franchise players hoping to give back.

Where does he find these kids?

This particular draft board, constructed by Marvin Lewis Community Fund executive director Barbara Dundee, is no different than the rest.

A girl once homeless now headed to Xavier University's neonatal nursing program as a National Honor Society student with a 3.5 grade-point average.

A future child psychologist who babysits an autistic child and worked with Down 's syndrome children last summer.

A hopeful medical student who has never received below an 'A' vowing to pay her own way through college because her parents have already given so much.

A basketball player who also coaches his sister's 9-year-old team who wants to mentor young men like himself headed to the University of Arizona's honors computer program after being inspired by recently watching his father get his own computer engineering degree. When he totaled his car, he told his mother he didn't want a new one but wanted to put the check toward college.

Tough thing about this board is you've already traded up.

"It makes you feel good about what's coming behind us, you know what I mean?" Lewis muses this week as he prepares for his 11th annual celebrity golf tournament that is the engine of one the most powerful foundations in professional sports.

You can't get an extra pick in the draft if you like somebody, but when your name is on the community fund, you can hand out an extra scholarship. So at the close of Sunday's golf at Shaker Run Golf Course in Lebanon, Ohio, volunteers, celebrities, and parents fittingly gather under the big tent to watch Lewis hand out six $20,000 scholarships for $5,000 for each year.

It is the reddest of red carpets in Cincinnati. Not only does Lewis get the cream of Bengals football from every era (Ken Anderson, Sam Wyche, Solomon Wilcots, John Jackson, Dhani Jones, Leon Hall, Bernard), but some Reds Hall-of-Famers, too, like Chris Sabo and Dave Parker. Not to mention guys that played for him elsewhere, like Tony Siragusa and Michael McCrary.

But they never overshadow the kids. Their stories are too good.

"In one word? Everything!" is how one of them defined what the money means in the ever critical essay Lewis demands of each applicant. "In two words? My future! In three words? To help others!"

The words jump like Molly Kessler has been jumping ever since she saw her bedroom for the first time when she was three years old and her adopted mother brought her home from India to Loveland, Ohio. It's why she didn't follow her parents into the artistic realm of creating large pieces of stained glass and mosaics.

"I dabbled in it, but it's not for me. I need to be moving. I love running around and trying new things," Molly says. "I can't sit there. Very tedious."

Cindy Kessler pointed to the picture book she brought with her on the trip, the one with photos of Cindy's birth daughter Gretchen, husband Bob, their parents, and Molly's bedroom.

"I pointed to the picture book and pointed to the room and she jumped up and down with joy," Cindy Kessler recalls. "She laughed and kept repeating a series of words that for the life of me I haven't been able to understand what they mean. But they were expressions of pure joy."

She jetted across the stage at Loveland High School Thursday on Awards Night to reap the benefits of a 3.9 grade point average and a four-year varsity track career as, naturally, a sprinter.

She may be the most typical high school kid of any MLCF  scholarship winner. Two parents. Older sister. Great grades, varsity letters, active in the community.

"I read, hang out with friends, go to movies," Molly Kessler says. "Any typical teenager stuff. I love tennis. I love soccer."

Typical is what makes it great. Look at how it all started.

"My first three years of life were spent in a tiny, austere orphanage in Bhubaneswar, India," says Molly's essay. " Until I was adopted, I had never seen running water nor used a flushed toilet; a field served as our restroom. Toys were sticks and pebbles. A tall masonry wall enclosed our little world, not to keep the twelve children in, but the tigers out."

Molly remembers nothing of it. Memory starts in the Loveland bedroom and stretches all the way to "I've been so lucky in my life and so fortunate to be adopted. I would love to provide any help that I can for anybody out there."

Cindy remembers heat so suffocating that people would migrate at night from the shanties by the highway and lay on the median to feel the breeze of the cars whipping past. And the dichotomy of Indian life still clings to her. The raw poverty juxtaposed to a love of life celebrated in the breathtaking color of ceremonies and dress.

 The third night Cindy had Molly in India, she had to go to a pharmacy to get antibiotics for heat blisters that had popped up on Molly's face and had closed one of her eyes. It was simply a stall with a counter shoved to the street and when they closed it they hauled down a garage door. When they got back to the hotel, Molly wouldn't drink the medicine. Until Cindy acted as if she were crying.

"As soon as she saw that, her whole body language changed and this look of compassion came over that little face," Cindy says. "She barely knew me, but already  she cared enough that she didn't to hurt me."

So she took the medicine. Then when they'd been home for three and a half months, Cindy had her out picking raspberries with Gretchen. They noticed Molly had stopped eating them and was collecting some in her hand.

"These are for Daddy," she said.

Cindy looked at Gretchen. They were eating them as fast as they could and not once had she thought of Bob.

 "I see that from Molly over and over and over again," Cindy says.

Now her hands are big enough to save for more people. She joined the Tigers in Service program at Loveland High and volunteered at the Loveland Care Center and went to downtown Cincinnati to help cook meals and baby sit for struggling women with families at the Bethany House.

"I think the care center is my favorite because you actually get to become friends with the elderly and hear   their stories," Molly says. "We just brighten their day. I love it."

She has recently read "I am Malala," the story of Malala Yousafzai, the young journalist shot in Pakistan while standing up for education for girls.

"She's an inspiration to everyone," Molly says. "I give her credit for showing me how to achieve my goals and don't let anything stop me."

She has decided to follow Gretchen to Ohio University and major in International Business, a taxing challenge for the family. She is using her savings from her job at Lifetime Fitness for school and is hoping to secure an on-campus job. As typical as it gets. The $20,000 she gets Sunday will be $20,000 of debt she won't have when she gets out.

"She wants to help small entrepreneurs. People trying to live off their businesses and just need help," says Cindy, who saw what Malala's book did for her daughter. "She said, 'I could help somebody like that trying to establish a really neat foundation and help others.' There isn't a lot of money in that kind of work, God love her. If she comes out with less debt, she can pursue that very honorable dream."

Molly didn't bring much from India. Really her name was pretty much it. There was only one name on her Indian passport. "Maheswata." It is now her middle name and it falls gently into "Molly," like Molly fell into Loveland. So smoothly that Cindy can't tell you how many times people have said, "She's so lucky."

But Cindy knows that's not all true.

"I am so lucky. I am so blessed," Cindy says.  "We sort of had the feeling there is a certain destiny in life. She was destined to have two very real sets of parents. A set of birth parents and adoptive parents. Providence, the universe brought us together and there's a reason why."

It's a reason this is another top-notch draft for Lewis and his kids.

                           The 2014 MLCF college scholarship class

Adam Moeller—LaSalle High School--Notre Dame, Accounting & Economics

Serenity Rowe—Norwood High School--Xavier, Nursing

Molly Kessler—Loveland High School—Ohio University, International Business

Megan McGrew—Franklin High School—Wright State University, Pre-Med

Emily Roemhild—Walnut Hills High School—Miami University, Psychology

Ishmael Carter—Walnut Hills High School—University of Arizona, Computer Science

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