RUTLAND–The start of a new school year can be a difficult transition for many students. For those in College of St. Joseph’s STEPS program, it goes beyond missing familiar faces from home and getting to class on time. For them, it includes how they can access necessary school supplies, and more. The Vermont Student Assistance Corp. is helping to combat those issues with a yearly donation to the college’s program.
Dilys Pierson, marketing communications manager at VSAC, and Jaye O’Connell, who works in compliance, recently delivered school supplies, gift cards, clothing, dishes, mini-fridges and more to the students in the STEPS Program, a full-time residential program for Vermont youth transitioning out of foster care.
“These kids have worked so hard to get where they are, and if we can help meet their personal needs, they’ll perhaps be free to devote their energies toward their academics and other campus pursuits,” Pierson said.
VSAC is a mission-driven nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring that all Vermonters have the necessary financial and information resources to pursue their education goals beyond high school. Three years ago, the staff was considering where they should devote time and resources, and the STEPS Program was at the top of their list.
“It was one that everyone was able to get behind,” Pierson said. “The STEPS program is a perfect fit with our mission.”
While Pierson is the lucky one who delivers the donations, it’s truly a team effort.
“Everyone is so generous and participatory–it’s a real organization-wide effort,” she said. “So many people stepped forward with tremendous contributions that allowed us to provide the gift cards and laptops.”
And there was no lack of appreciation from students, who hugged Pierson, repeatedly thanking her for VSAC’s generosity.
“Everyone cares for each other here, no matter what happens,” said CSJ senior Josh Bixby. “It’s a great support system.”
As with the extra quilts that were donated by the Maple Leaf Quilters Guild at the beginning of the year, any extra supplies will be saved and stored for future need, said Paula McGhee, who leads the STEPS Program.
STEPS, Students Taking an Effective Path to Success, is the first full-time residential program in New England for youth transitioning out of foster care. It provides a supportive campus environment for students so they can earn a college degree, develop work skills, and experience optional counseling and guidance support.
CSJ solves logistical problems foster youth traditionally face by offering year-round housing and meal service. STEPS students also have access to career and personal counseling. The STEPS program greatly exceeds the national average in both graduation and persistence rates [students who return for the fall term–ed.] for foster care students.