Chris and Elanna Valley: Providing Hope for the Future

Georgia State played a big part in Chris and Elanna Valley’s past. Elanna earned both her bachelor’s and her master’s degrees here, and the couple met while she was doing an undergraduate internship. The university also means a lot to their present: After more than three decades as a social worker, Chris is now a part-time instructor in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.

But Chris says Georgia State means just as much to their future — and the future of their city and their state. That’s why they’ve made a planned gift to the School of Social Work in the hopes that it will help create more qualified, caring professionals to speak for the voiceless and endangered.

‘A Gift from the Attic’

“Social work deals with issues of life and death,” Chris explains. “Every week, the news reports have something that touches on children in danger, elderly people begin abused, human trafficking, the whole problem of people being victimized for profit, whether it’s prostitution or some other kind of forced service.”

Yet social workers often get short shrift in the media — and from the lawmakers who oversee them. “Georgia is in the bottom 10 in the nation in the number of licensed social workers per capita. We are less than half the average per capita of the nation as a whole, and we’re really at the bottom in terms of having social workers who are educated to handle these types of issues.”

The Valleys want their planned gift of a life insurance policy to support the School of Social Work in creating exactly that kind of smart, concerned professional. It’s a gift that happened almost by chance, Chris admits.

“A gentleman I’d worked with in financial planning said, ‘Let me take a look at what you’ve got,’ and he identified a life insurance policy that I’d bought in 1975 when I worked in Indiana. It was a whole-life policy that I’d stopped paying on back around ’84. I’d never thought of it, though I had received an annual statement, so we knew it’d been building value.”

The financial planner showed the Valleys how they could increase the policy’s value fivefold without incurring a taxable event. “What was a very small gift became a gift that really had some substance, the ability to make an impact,” Chris says. “I call it a ‘gift from the attic’ — it was a wonderful way of taking an old asset that we never would’ve thought about and giving it some meaning.”

An Investment in Georgia State — and the State of Georgia

From Elanna’s time as a student (and, later, an employee in the registrar’s office) to Chris’ career as an instructor, the Valleys’ association with Georgia State has lasted for nearly four decades. It’s given them plenty of time to watch the university grow — in both physical size and national stature.

“It’s truly amazing. Comparing it to when I was in class at Georgia State, it’s almost like two different places,” says Elanna, who completed her bachelor’s degree in 1978 and her master’s degree in 1981. “It’s really energizing and affirming to see how well the university has done and how much it’s grown. It’s just incredible. When I was here, there were no dorms, there was no law school. And there certainly wasn’t any online registration — you had to go stand in line over at Sparks Hall. When we got telephone registration, that was a big leap forward!”

The Valleys have also been able to observe the dedication of Georgia State’s students — including their oldest son, who earned a degree from the College of Law in 2010. Chris says the students he teaches in the undergraduate social work program give him confidence that the investment he and his wife have made in Georgia State will have a meaningful payoff down the road.

”The first year I was teaching, the very first session, I asked my students, ‘What do you want to do?’ Not a single one of them said, ‘I want to be in private practice’ or ‘I want to be head of an agency.’ They all talked about it in terms of wanting to help people in this or that particular circumstance — juvenile detention, work with the elderly. I’ve been so impressed with their dedication and where their priorities are.”

While they describe themselves as “people of modest means,” the Valleys say they’re grateful for the opportunity to support a program that can make a real impact on their state as a whole. “This is not just a gift to a school or a profession — this is a gift to Georgia,” Chris says. “We need more licensed social worker s in this state. We need people who can address those life-and-death issues professionally. That’s really what this gift is about.”