Human Services awarded university $397,000 grant

BIG RAPIDS – Michigan’s Department of Human Services recently awarded $397,000 to Ferris State University to aid its efforts to help former foster care students in need achieve success. The money will be used in the next three years to pay a new life coach for the Ferris Youth Initiative, a scholarship and mentoring program designed to increase higher education opportunities for low-income orphans or those who have aged out of the foster care system. The program teaches skills needed to live independently, connect socially and perform well academically through mentoring and offers a special scholarship for financial assistance. “My heart is filled with joy knowing that Ferris State University will be able to continue encouraging and supporting a population of youth who may have experienced struggles that many of us may never experience in our lifetime,” said Leroy Wright, dean of Student Life and the program’s advisor, in a press release. “Through this additional funding source, we will be able to continue in very intentional ways to help our Ferris Youth Initiative foster care alumni become independent, even more resilient and successful leaders in our communities.” Adding a life coach to the program means students will have a full-time mentor to develop individualized service plans that teach skills needed to succeed in college and to be a successful citizen. The coach also will work with other program mentors to help foster successful mentor-mentee relationships. Lisa Spaugh, marketing and recruitment specialist for Eagle Village, a troubled youth center with a foster care program, said a mentoring relationship can be extremely effective for individuals leaving the stability of a foster home during a critical time in their life. “We get them into the foster care system and into a loving home and now they’re out on their own again,” Spaugh said. “It’s a little scary because (many foster care children) have experienced being alone a lot before they were put in their foster family. “(From) 18 to 24 (years old) is the critical turning point in a person’s life. That’s where the mentors come in.” Though unaware of any students from Eagle Village who have been involved in the Ferris Youth Initiative, Spaugh said youth from Eagle Village are prime candidates for the program. “We’re very excited to see (Ferris) reaching out and connecting with agencies like DHS and Eagle Village to further foster care children’s potential. It’s a huge opportunity for us to offer this program to our foster children,” Spaugh said. Since the program’s inception in 2010, 19 students have been awarded a $4,000 annual FYI scholarship applied to any direct cost at Ferris; about $82,000 in scholarship money has been awarded. Twelve students still are pursuing their degrees. The program is open to new and current orphaned and former foster care students who attend Ferris on a full-time basis, live on campus and are 24 years old or younger. For additional eligibility and program requirements, or to apply, visit
www.ferris.edu/diversity and click on the “Ferris Youth Initiative” link on the left-hand menu.