Susan Thomas to speak here Friday
By Sarah Pridgeon
The Craig and Susan Thomas Foundation believe in second chances. Created to combine the treasured memory of a senator who inspired young people with the work of an educator who championed children with special needs for almost 40 years, the foundation offers scholarships and mentoring to those who yearn to further their education.
Susan Thomas will be speaking to the teachers, counselors and principals of both Bearlodge and Sundance High schools this week, hoping to spread the word of the assistance that the foundation – and she herself – can offer.
“Our scholarships can be for anyone who has really struggled in life, be that with school, social issues, financial or something else,” she explains. “We have helped homeless people, those who graduated high school with a one-point GPA, people who have been in trouble with the law. There are so many young learners out there who have trouble with so many different things.”
A non-profit, charitable organization, the foundation was created to provide opportunities to high school graduates and GED recipients who don’t qualify for Hathaway Scholarships, struggled in school and want to further their education after they graduate.
“This is a second chance for anyone, not just for those of school age,” Thomas adds. “We can help with re-training if someone has been out of the workforce for a while, too.”
A scholarship from the foundation includes personal mentoring from Susan Thomas herself.
“Mentoring is the main component of the scholarship, which is what sets us apart,” she says. “I go around the state and mentor every one of the kids we award scholarships to. I taught for 36 years and now my classroom is the whole state.”
Thomas’s mentoring begins the moment that a scholarship is awarded and continues throughout the student’s studies. She is each student’s first and main contact and remains in touch constantly via phone, email, letter and text message, as well as through personal visits.
“These students are not just getting money, I’m also going to walk them through the college process,” she says. “It’s so important that they have someone they can always count on. There are many, many miles on my Explorer.”
A total of 14 scholarships are available each semester; the number of slots that open up as a semester begins depends both on how many scholarship students graduate and the track record built by the ones still learning. Building a track record, says Thomas, is an important part of the process: students must go to classes, show up for meetings and generally apply themselves to their studies.
“I champion these people,” says Thomas. “It’s scary to go out into a world that you’ve never quite been able to succeed in.”
Thomas, who was raised in Johnson County and has spent the last four decades advocating for the rights of children with special needs, established the foundation to honor the work her husband, Craig Thomas, did for Wyoming during his time as United States Senator, as well as to help those young people who need extra assistance to learn a profession or trade.
“Craig loved young people,” she says. “He would go to all the schools, at every grade level, because he thought it part of his job to provide leadership and inspiration to young people.”
When he passed away, she chose to keep his legacy alive by combining the couple’s passions. With the help of two part-time staff in Cheyenne and Casper, she raised the funds to create the foundation and put the scholarship program together.
“There are actually three components to what we do,” she says. “As well as the mentoring, we also award small grants to groups that think like we do and we have an annual Leadership Award for people who go that extra mile to nurture young learners. People are nominated for the award by their peers.”
The basic criteria to qualify for a scholarship include a high school diploma, GED or eligibility for the school or program for which a student is applying; to be a Wyoming and U.S. citizen; to not be receiving a Hathaway Scholarship; and to be attending a Wyoming school or program.
“Just go to the website,” Thomas concludes, explaining how to apply for a Craig and scholarship. “This is a good time to do it, because applications for next fall are due on May 1. Just print off an application, fill it in by hand and send it in.”
Susan Thomas will be in Sundance on March 8, at 8:30 a.m. at Bearlodge High School and 9:45 at Sundance High School; all teachers, counselors and principals are welcome. To learn more about the foundation’s scholarships and grants or to nominate a peer for next year’s Leadership Award, visit www.thomas-foundation.com