OU Given $60,000 Grant For Former Foster Care Students

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Ohio University hosted a reception on Wednesday in the Baker University Center 1804 Lounge to announce that it has received a $60,000 grant over three years from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to support its new Ohio Reach Scholars Program, which is designed to help emancipated foster care students be successful in college.

The Ohio Reach Scholars Program, which received the first of the funding on July 1, is administered by the Ohio University Office for Multicultural Student Access and Retention (OMSAR). The program’s goal is to improve the college retention and graduation rates for former foster care students at Ohio University.

The program became a reality thanks to the hard work of Jacob Okumu, the coordinator for student outreach and developmental services in OMSAR, who wrote the proposal for the grant. His interest in helping foster care youth began while he was working on his doctoral degree several years ago. His dissertation research focused on creating a functioning model of mentorship specifically targeted toward youth in southern Ohio. In 2012, Okumu was awarded the Paul P. Fidler Research Grant, which funds scholarly research focused on issues related to college student transitions.

Okumu said the first step in the implementation of the Ohio Reach Scholars Program is to invite all of the eligible students to participate. Once they are part of the program, he said there will be a retreat, an assessment of the students’ individual needs and the assignment of a mentor who will be responsible for supporting them. Okumu said OMSAR will provide biannual progress reports to the state’s Ohio Reach Program as part of the grant agreement.

William Murray, coordinator of the state’s Ohio Reach Program, was on hand to present the ceremonial check to Ohio University. He shared that Ohio University is one of only four schools (Central State University, Columbus State Community College and Cuyahoga Community College) to receive this type of grant funding from the state. He added that statistics show that 67 percent of former foster care youth will drop out of college before earning a bachelor’s degree and only 9 percent will attain a bachelor’s degree.

“This grant provides us a way to touch youth who for a long time weren’t represented,” Murray said. “We are all excited and know that great things are going to come because of the support Ohio University has given Jacob. People are looking at us on a national level because of what is about to take place.”

Two Ohio University students who are emancipated foster care students attended the reception. Michael Outrich, a senior geographic information system major from Cleveland, and Kimberly Moore, a senior international business major from Columbus, were acknowledged by Okumu for helping him develop the program by sharing their stories and personal struggles with him.

The duo discussed how beneficial the Ohio Reach Scholars Program will be to former foster care students.

“This mentoring program will bridge the gap between high school and college,” Outrich said. “It will address scholarship, personal development, employment, study skills and other broad and specific issues that hinder students.”

Moore predicted that the program will be fantastic because Okumu worked really hard on it.

“I’m excited to be on Jacob’s team. I’m excited because the program will build an on-campus community for foster care youth coming and I want them to know that they have someone to turn to and learn about the many resources available to them. Even now I’m still learning what resources are available to me and I’ve made it, but many other foster care students need the help of this program.”

Okumu said the grant funds will allow some of the participants to travel abroad this winter.

“During winter break, at least 20 of the students will be eligible for scholarships to study abroad during the time that most students have returned home,” Okumu said. “This program is available to any student who is disconnected from their family. That includes homeless and adopted students and any others who are without family support.”

Briana Hervet, chair of the Ohio Reach Board and director of the state’s Choose Ohio First Scholarship Program, talked about the importance of the Ohio Reach programs in the state.

“The chancellor of the Board of Regents, John Carey, is focused on completion and ensuring that more of Ohio’s citizenry complete the degrees that they started,” Hervet said. “This initiative is an excellent way to make sure foster care youth are retained here and hopefully stay here as employees of Ohio companies and businesses.”