KALMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) - He knows the statistics: just half of children who age out ofthe foster care system finish high school. Just one in eight gets abachelor's degree.
But Richard France is fighting to stay on the right side ofthem. He finished high school and is working on a bachelor's degreeat Western Michigan University, thanks in part to a scholarshipprogram in its first year there.
"It means a lot," France told 24 Hour News 8. "I don't reallyhave the family backing that some people do."
That family backing means financial support, or at least astudent loan co-signer, for so many other students. The John SeitaScholars program, part of WMU's Foster Youth and Higher EducationInitiative provides free undergraduate tuition for students whoage out of foster care. France has been in foster care since he wasvery young.
"I moved around quite a bit and I had to live with otherfamilies that weren't my own," he explained. "That, in general, issomething you really can't get over. You're never quite comfortablewith it."
Seita Scholars live on campus -- a home even during the holidaysif they need it. France says staff have invited the students totheir homes for holiday meals.
"Things like that really make it feel more like a family, acommunity," he said. The program evolved from a statewideconference on foster youth in 2007 and is named for John Seita, aWestern alumus and foster care advocate. Seita Scholars are evencovered for tuition when they study abroad.
"An incredible opporunity," scholar Jillian Gecewicz said. "Iwould never, ever have thought I would be able to go to Egypt."
Aquinas College now plans to offer a scholarship for next schoolyear -- the
"My own personal feeling is, in four years, we might have 20 or30 of these kids on campus," said Bruce Nanzer, director of theAquinas' Community Leadership/Public Administration program.Expanding the program that far would require some outside financialhelp.
Nanzer said the concept of the Aquinas scholarship came from hisinvolvement with the Kent County chapter of the Michigan YouthOpportunities Initiative, which includes children in the fostersystem. The program will include extra support for students oncethey're on campus, Nanzer said.
Western offers that support as well. The program's officeassistant, Jamie Crandell, is a product of foster care herself.
"My whole heart is in this program. And it's so inspiring to meto see these kids who might not have made it otherwise or need tohelp make it -- to help them to see them succeed it makes it worthgetting up every day," said Crandell, who is also a student andheads the Seita student association.
She calls it an honor.
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