Thursday, April 14, 2011
By Bob Vines Editor, Worland Daily News




Susan Thomas shares husband’s legacy by helping at-risk youth with scholarships


WORLAND – Susan Thomas shared much in common with her husband, the late US Senator Craig Thomas, including an interest in education – especially at-risk and special needs students.

When the 3-term senator passed away after battling leukemia in 2007, Susan Thomas began searching for a way to honor her husband’s legacy.
“He loved young people and he really thought it was his duty to include young people and talk to them about leadership and inspiration,” she said.

That desire to honor her husband’s memory resulted in the formation of The Craig and Susan Thomas Foundation, which supports at-risk students by supplying scholarships and mentoring. The foundation currently helps fund 12-13 full-time equivalent students each semester that attend Wyoming’s university, junior colleges and trade schools and do not qualify for the Hathaway Scholarship Program. The foundation has provided 50 semester scholarships at $1250 since 2009 and also allows opportunities for part-time students at half the amount.

Susan Thomas spent Monday meeting with high school administrators in Thermopolis and Worland in order to help spread the word about what the foundation can do for the district’s at-risk students. She points out that many students don’t bother applying for these type scholarships because they don’t feel they are talented enough for the next level of education or they need help applying. These are the type of students the program targets.

A 36-year special needs educator, she isn’t content in just playing the financial benefactor role either, she mentors each scholarship recipient, often times face-to-face.

“This really helps,” she said. “Many times they don’t have role models and that’s part of the reason they struggle. They need to know they are important and they need self-validation. (The scholarship recipients) have to be accountable to me. I need to know what their grades are and they have to connect with me as I connect with them. Otherwise, it’s just giving a scholarship and saying ‘good luck.’ I can’t do that.”
But it’s not just young people that the program aims to help. The very first scholarship was awarded to a 39-year-old who used the program in order to finish her cosmetology school education.

“I happened to be getting my nails done and was just chatting away about my project,” when the conversation grabbed the attention of a salon employee, said Susan Thomas. That employee used the scholarship to get her degree and is currently working in the Cheyenne area.

The foundation also honors an adult each year that goes above and beyond the call of duty to support at-risk youth. The award winner is chosen from nominees solicited from Wyoming residents. The prize is $2,500 to be used however the recipient sees fit. The award is handed out each year at the Wyoming State Fair in Douglas.

“There are so many people out there that deserve accolades that work hard for the love of (helping youth),” she said.
The foundation is funded through private donations and Susan Thomas takes the lead in raising money by contacting sponsors. The chore isn’t as difficult as one might think. She leans on her previous experience as one of the cofounders for Race for the Cure in Wyoming, a breast cancer fundraiser, and the legacies of her father, a former state superintendent of public instruction, and her late husband.

“When you believe in something – piece of cake. I believed in my father and I certainly believed in Craig. Those experiences have given me such courage. And I truly believe in what we are doing here.”

Those interested in being considered for a Craig and Susan Thomas Foundation scholarship are staring at a May 1 deadline to apply. To do so, download a form at www.Thomas-Foundation.com. You can also nominate someone for the Leadership Award by visiting the Website – the deadline for that is also May 1.

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Phone: 307.634.8195
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