Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Northern Wyoming Daily News
By Bob Vines




Foundation Provides "2nd Chances" for Students

WORLAND – After Wyoming Senator Craig Thomas passed away June 4, 2007, from complications associated with leukemia, his wife Susan Thomas looked for a way to honor his memory.

"He loved young people and he covered this state many times talking to young people," Susan Thomas told the Worland Kiwanis Club during a lunch presentation at the Worland Community Center Tuesday. "He believed it was part of his duty to talk to young kids when they came to Washington as well. He talked about inspiration, leadership and empowerment."

Susan Thomas had spent 36 years as a special needs educator at Casper’s Kelly Walsh High School and Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va. It was that shared connection to youth that inspired the formation of the Craig and Susan Thomas Foundation five years ago.

"I put those two things together," she said. "Craig’s love of young people and my experience with working with learners who were at risk."

The foundation raises funds from private donations to provide grants and scholarship opportunities for at-risk students. Their mantra is that everybody deserves a second chance and it is accentuated in each of the three levels of support the foundation provides which includes a grant program, advocate recognition and the scholarship program.

The grant program provides small grants (on average $2,000) to groups that help learners achieve post-secondary educational goals. Applications are accepted throughout the year and a form can be found on the foundation’s website.

The foundation also presents a Leadership Award which is a nod to the late senator’s strong belief in leadership qualities. The award provides a cash prize of $2,500 to someone who goes above and beyond the call of duty to support youth who are at risk. Nomination forms are also available on the web site.

The final piece is the scholarship and mentoring program – the focus of Susan Thomas’ trip through the area this week. There are currently 16 scholarship recipients taking classes in the state’s community colleges, vocational schools or university.

The scholarship not only provides tuition assistance, but a mentoring system provided by Susan Thomas herself. The scholarships focus on students that have struggled in life or the classroom. Some have been through the penal system while others were homeless. She said that some just never had a fair shot, have been passed over or left behind due to behavior problems in the classroom.

Susan Thomas takes a hands-on approach in her mentoring, traveling across the state to meet with each of the scholarship recipients and keeping in contact through phone calls, text messages and emails.

"They sign a contract that says they will stay in touch with me," she said. "I’m not about to give them $1,300 per semester and just say good luck. I’ve been around the block too many times. When they get the money, they get me. I confess that sometimes they don’t know what they are getting with me. But they learn."

Her involvement includes monitoring grades, approving registrations and even lending an ear.

"I’m pretty protective of the mentoring part because I have done it for so long. I want to be a part of something positive. I grab onto it. It is a lot of work but that is what I do," she said.
Students can apply for the scholarship by seeing their school administrators. The deadline to apply for fall semester is May 1.
Susan Thomas will be visiting eight different communities in the Big Horn Basin this week talking with school administrators, civic groups, the Wyoming Boys School and speaking with media outlets.

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On the net www.thomas-foundation.com

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Phone: 307.634.8195
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