Craig and Susan Thomas Foundation’s legacy ten years later 

The legacy of the Craig and Susan Thomas Foundation will live on in Wyoming and in the students it has helped. When the Foundation was established, it was with a 10-year plan.  That plan is coming to a close now. In a recent phone interview, founder Susan Thomas said she and her staff are “wrapping it up.”

Thomas began the foundation to provide inspiration, opportunity and leadership. Her husband, the late Sen. Craig Thomas, passed away in June of 2007. “He loved the youth of Wyoming and it was the best part of his job (dealing with youth). Inspiration has held a special significance for us. We believe that inspiration gives chances and choices to all of us — especially those who need it most,” Thomas said.

The goal for the Foundation was to use every available resource to help students who are at risk. The programs established were: scholarship with mentoring, grants to groups that share the Foundation’s mission and an annual leadership award to recognize Wyomingites who champion youth.

“Everyone deserves a second chance,” said Thomas. As a teacher for 36 years, she worked with at risk youth daily. Not only did she teach in Wyoming, she also taught at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia. “I taught VA and U.S. Government to pretty tough students. They were angry and cynical. They let me know that the very first day. I loved them. They loved hearing about Wyoming. One asked if I got lonely out there because there aren’t very many people.  Others wanted to go on a field trip to Wyoming.”

The Foundation helped 10 students the first year. This year they helped 30. Thomas noted that some of the more recent students were laid-off energy workers. “They wanted to learn a new skill. They were nervous but eager to go back to school.”

The Foundation has given 300 semester scholarships. “We have lost a few along the way but our recipients are great. They just wanted a shot and we were able to give that to them,” said Thomas.

The scholarships weren’t just for college. Thomas said that college isn’t for everyone so scholarships were given for vocational training programs as well. “So many of our students have received that special and hard-earned diploma and/or certificate. Our students have graduated from the University of Wyoming, the vocational training programs, as well as the community colleges in Wyoming. They are so proud that they are working and helping the economy.”

Forty-one groups in Wyoming, including a homeless population, have received over $100,000 in grants.

Ten leadership awards were also given out by the Foundation. The awards went to adults in Wyoming who had gone above and beyond to help learners who needed second chances. The award included a $2,500 cash prize.

Thomas thanked everyone who made the Foundation successful.  “The Thomas Team includes donors, the scholarship committee, the grass roots effort of two incredible people, Gale Geringer and Ally Garner.  This state and this country have been so very generous to the Craig and Susan Thomas Foundation. Thank you to our supporters’ generosity, their belief in what we were doing and their encouragement. From donors to media to educational institutions, we grew far beyond our dream!”

BY BARBARA ANNE GREENE