The Great Plains LIFE Foundation works to help high school students who demonstrate the ability to succeed, yet are considered to be at risk for dropping out. Often times these students face poverty, abuse, homelessness, and many grow up in negative family environments. Many of these high school students are the primary breadwinners in the family and some work up to 30 to 40 hours per week while attending school. These challenges can keep them from graduating, continuing their education, and becoming self-sufficient citizens in the community.
The “Stay 4” Project was developed to address this drop out crisis and come alongside these students. Selected by high school districts at the beginning of their junior year, students are required to fulfill criteria focusing on academics, community service, and extracurricular activities during their junior and senior years. “Stay 4” makes students aware of educational opportunities through field trips to area colleges, and connects students with advisors who assist them in finding the necessary financial aid and scholarships for college. This unique program plays a major role in addressing an unmet need and helps assist students through their critical first year which can determine long term success or failure.
After completing the requirements, graduating and enrolling in a trade school or college, the foundation gives students a $1,000 support grant which can address unexpected expenses and assist toward continuing their education. The grant is not limited to tuition, options provided may include rent, food, textbooks, computers, and even winter clothing.
More than 400 students have been a part of the “Stay 4” Project, and 97 percent have gone on to graduate high school; most being the first in their families to do so. More than 200 of these students have continued their education, been a part of their university’s honors programs, and have received both their undergraduate and graduate degrees from various universities around the country.
For the first time this past school year, Illinois State psychology students worked alongside the Great Plains LIFE Foundation to assist high school students in the “Stay 4” Project. Clinical counseling students Ceara Carrigan and Taylor Courchene completed internships with the organization. They worked to ensure the foundation had the most contact with their students as possible. Carrigan made sure all students were accounted for both in a physical file and an online spreadsheet. Courchene created a private Facebook group where former, current, and future students could all communicate about their time in the program. Carrigan also played a part in adding students to the list and reaching out to get feedback on their experiences.
“The most rewarding part, by far, was hearing students credit the Great Plains LIFE Foundation for their attendance in college and their overall well-being. It’s amazing to hear how a foundation that handles so many teens can have such a big impact on those who choose to actively participate in it,” remarked Carrigan.
Both Carrigan and Courchene enjoyed their time with the “Stay 4” Project and their supervisor, Liz Skinner, raved about their work. The agency is very interested in continuing a partnership with the Illinois State University Department of Psychology to provide additional internships for future students.