Susan Thomas made a trip around the southern part of the Big Horn Basin last week visiting schools to let counselors know about scholarships and grants for at-risk youth, including stops at Riverside and Greybull high schools.
Thomas said when her husband, U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas died, she wanted to keep his legacy alive. “Craig loved youth,” she said.
According to a foundation newsletter, “Formed in 2008 to help students who are at-risk and to honor the memory and work of (Sen. Thomas), the foundation has already helped more then 50 students who do not qualify for Hathaway and other scholarships to attend post-secondary schools in the state.”
Thomas said students must attend a school in Wyoming, whether it is the University of Wyoming, a community college, WyoTech or other trade school.
Of the more than 50 who have been helped, 10 have already achieved their degrees or certificates and are working in their chosen field.
Thomas describes the foundation program as a “mentoring program with a scholarship component.
“Mentorship is a huge piece to those who’ve struggled in school, life and home,” Thomas said. “We want them to be able to continue their education.”
She added, “I know that a learner who is at-risk doesn’t necessarily come to the table with similar knowledge, ability, self-advocacy skills, social maturity, or clarity of purpose as others do. And simply getting into a college or trade school doesn’t change that.”
When a learner or client is accepted by the foundation contracts are sent and signed. Midterm grades, finals grades and re-applications per semester are required.
“Upon agreeing to our terms, I start to work individually with each student to make sure he/she is responsible, accountable, and willing to grow, to learn, to try to become the best citizen possible.”
Thomas, a former teacher who has 40 years experience with at-risk students, said now “my classroom has become the whole state. I become their advocate in life,” she said.
“They deserve a second shot and I want them to know they are valuable,” she said. “Some kids have felt they were throw aways.”
She said she is available as the mentor via test, email and phone.
At RHS Wednesday, Thomas met with RHS Principal Tony Anson and counselor Judee Trevino. They said this is a great opportunity for students who are slow at maturing because by the time they realize how important grades are it is often too late. This gives them a second chance. On Wednesday they arranged for a meeting with Susan and a student who would fit with the program.
Educating the public
While the foundation has been around for five years, Thomas said she is still working on spreading the word around the state, thus the trip to Casper, Shoshoni, Thermopolis, Worland, Basin and Greybull last week.
Thomas said the trip is “about educating the public” and it already proved successful. She said she visited Worland on Tuesday and the article was published Wednesday and a student contacted her. “That’s what makes it work,” she said.
Scholarships are available for seniors as well as non-traditional students, Thomas said. She said their first non-traditional student was two credits shy of getting her cosmetic certificate.
The $1,300 per semester is inline with community college tuitions she said. There are also scholarships available part-time for $675.
The foundation also offers grants to groups “who think we like we do.” She said the small grant funding has helped high school afterschool programs, a nursing program in Sheridan and helped a chapter with funding for FFA jackets.
“We’re here to help; here to help those who have struggled,” Thomas said.
The Craig and Susan Thomas Foundation
Casper office — 307-277-0950
Cheyenne — 307-634-8195