|Sunday, February 14, 2010
By Peter Baumann
Creating opportunity one student at a time
After graduating from Laramie High School in 2008, Stephanie Calfior had a hard time looking at people directly; oftentimes she would let her long, red hair fall over her face, reluctant to stand out from the crowd. For her, college was not an inevitability but a long shot dream. Dreams can be hard to make happen without knowing people out there are cheering one on.
Now, nearly two years later, she doesn’t hesitate to say hi and is more than happy to talk about her new dream to get into animation.
And that old dream of going to college? She is doing it, thanks to the financial help, personal accolades and cheers from the Craig and Susan Thomas Foundation.
"This program changes people," Susan Thomas said. "When I first met Stephanie (Calfior) two years ago, she wouldn’t look at me. She kept her face down and she would barely, talk to me: No self-confidence."
Looking at Calfior, Thomas sees a completely different person from the high school graduate she met in 2008.
"This is a new person to me, and it’s so exciting," Thomas said.
"The Susan and Craig Foundation definitely changed me a lot," she said.
On this point, Thomas had to correct Calfior.
"You changed you. We were just there to applaud," Thomas said.
Nearly two years after beginning college, Laramie County Community College — Albany County Campus students Calfior and Clinton Robinson are two great sources of pride for Thomas, probably more so because the heartaches and life joys that Robinson and Calfior experience as students are shared by Thomas through phone calls, visits and conversations.
Being a college student with the Craig and Susan Thomas Foundation entails more than just receiving money and writing a thank-you letter; it means having someone there all along to check and cheer on the students.
While that may sound like a lot of work and time, Thomas said that her late husband Sen. Craig Thomas, whose memory the foundation was started to honor, would have it no other way.
"I mentor these guys, follow them around and meet with them — It’s very important to stayed involved, I think, in their activities," Thomas said. "Craig would be sad if we (just gave them money). I’ve always been involved with younger people and I’m not going to quit now."
Now helping 13 Wyoming students succeed in higher education, Thomas said the foundation has focused on helping students who are considered "at risk" — a term that Thomas explains can mean a variety of things.
"You can have a special education background, you can have monetary problems, you could be someone raising four children or a single parent who just needs somebody in their corner," Thomas said.
Former LCCC instructor and 2009 recipient of the Foundation’s Leadership Award Tim Nyquist said the foundation plays a vital role in creating opportunities for Wyoming residents who might not have otherwise been able to attend college. Without that opportunity, life can be hard — and in turn harden hearts, Nyquist said.
"Some students don’t have an opportunity to go to school, and that’s the scary part. I think if you don’t have the money and you don’t have the chance, that’s where a lot of students end up in jail or end up in trouble," Nyquist added. "I’ve had students that couldn’t have survived without that help. They’re so many of them that really have a hard time financially."
For Robinson, the foundation has provided him with the financial means that would not have otherwise been available to him. Without it, Robinson explained, "I’d either not be going to school right now or I would be working a lot while going to school."
After he graduates from LCCC in the fall, Robinson said he plans to attend the University of Wyoming.
"And we’ll be there for him," Thomas said.
It’s being there that Robinson said has spurred him on to focus on his academic career and work towards his goal of one day becoming a graphic designer.
"They’re not just financial support but moral support as well," Robinson said.
That moral support is what will most likely make a lasting impact on the lives and opportunities of students like Robinson and Calfior. For Calfior, it’s taught her that strangers can, in fact, care.
"Having someone who was a stranger cheer me on was so important. I didn’t know that there are people out there that would help me," Calfior said. "(Thomas) came into the picture, and I was just so surprised. I guess strangers can be a good influence; and she’s not a stranger anymore."
For more information about the Craig and Susan Thomas Foundation, go to www.thomas-foundation.com
Peter Baumann’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
As seen on www.laramieboomerang.com .