New endowment fund helps to create sense of caring and community for former foster care students

Donors come together to support Fostering Success program
Abbey Goers | November 29, 2021

Last year during Stout Gives Back, UW-Stout’s annual National Giving Day event, two donors who had never met came together to match each other’s $2,000 gifts.

Following that, Viola Riebe and the anonymous donor came together again and decided to each make a gift of $15,000 to start the Fostering Success Program Endowment Fund in hopes that it would lend permanency to the program that supports students who were in foster care.

Brenda Thompson
Brenda Thompson, senior development officer / UW-Stout

“For two complete strangers from opposite sides of the United States to come together because of a similar history and shared interests in supporting students – that doesn’t happen often in our world of giving,” said Brenda Thompson, senior development officer at Stout University Foundation.

Now, for the third annual Stout Gives Back event on Tuesday, Nov. 30, Viola is giving an additional $1,000 to Fostering Success as part of a matching gift challenge, in hopes of encouraging others to give.

Stout Gives Back is a 24-hour campaign for Blue Devils and the community at large to unite by giving back to an area of the university that is meaningful to them.

A gift for ‘the common good’

For Viola, of Melrose, Fla., Fostering Success is a most worthwhile program. The staff provides holistic support, guidance and resources for youth who have been in foster care, homeless or orphaned and who want to pursue higher education.

Once at UW-Stout, the program educates students about grants and scholarships and provides leadership and involvement opportunities.

 

UW-Stout HDFS student.
Fostering Success graduate Tonisha Hora / UW-Stout

Donations provide stability to the program, allowing students to receive direct aid for scholarships and expenses, and the Fostering Success Closet, which provides students with food and household items, clothing, hygiene items and school supplies.

There are 45 students in Fostering Success this academic year, up from 42 last year and 35 the year before. Students benefit from the community, financial aid and staff support provided by the program:

  • “Fostering Success has helped me in more ways than I can count. I have been able to afford my own home and transportation with the help of this program. I have been able to have a safe place to do homework and live comfortably,” said BW, an industrial design student.
  • “Fostering Success has given me a small community that empowers me and makes me feel less alone. I really value the experiences I’ve had with Fostering Success, and I feel like I’ve been able to get more involved at UW-Stout because I feel more comfortable,” said Emily, a computer networking and information technology student.
  • “Fostering Success helped me achieve my college and career goals by giving me a sense of support and encouragement that I wouldn’t have gotten if I wasn’t involved with FS. That pushed me to stay on top of my goals and allowed for personal and academic growth and contributed to who I am today,” said Liv, a business administration graduate.

Viola shared a favorite quote by Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel, that summarizes her feelings about giving:

“The common good is about how we live together in community. It’s about the ethical ideals we strive for together, the benefits and burdens we share, the sacrifices we make for one another. It’s about the lessons we learn from one another about how to live a good and decent life.”

Donors can specify their Stout Gives Back gifts or make undesignated gifts. Hosted by the Foundation, donations can be made online or by mailing a check to Stout University Foundation, 320 S. Broadway St., Menomonie, Wis., 54751.

Creating a sense of caring and community

Viola, who will turn 90 at the end of the month, grew up wanting a different life experience than her parents. Her family came from a very poor background, and she did not benefit from her parents reading her books, she said.

“My mom would say she graduated from the ‘School of Hard Knocks,’” she said. “I didn’t agree with that. I believe education, education, education is a way out of a socio-economic situation.”

When Viola entered nursing school, she found her situation was much different than her classmates’. She had no permanent address or phone number. She and her brother moved frequently, living temporarily with different family friends.

In contrast, her husband, Herb, came from a privileged background, as the son of a U.S. rear admiral and dentist. Herb graduated from UW-Stout in industrial technology in 1957 and believed he benefited from his time at the university.

Herb died in 2002. He was working on a letter of intent to fund a UW-Stout scholarship before he died. “Herb cared deeply about Stout and thought his career came from the foundation of his education there,” Viola said.

 

Olivia Johnston speaks at a Court Appointed Special Advocates event in Green Bay with UW-Stout alum Cameron Hunter.
Fostering Success graduate Olivia Johnston and mentor Cameron Hunter / Contributed photo

Viola visited UW-Stout that year to donate some of Herb’s machinery to the School of Engineering. She was introduced to the Fostering Success program and immediately felt a connection to the students and the program’s purpose.

“The most difficult thing to do is to ask for help, because society doesn’t often offer it or believe you when you ask,” Viola said. “And if you have an unmet need, it is harder to focus on academics.

“The most moral and ethical thing you can do is to share your wealth. To share gives me pleasure – to provide a safety net for those less fortunate.”

Having lived through the Great Depression and World War II, Viola experienced hardships. But she has never lived through a time like this, where people are more divided than ever with little sense of community.

“Sharing my money is my way of helping – to support the students makes perfect sense,” she said. “I can help create a sense of caring and community that they might not have.”

She feels the ability to come together with another donor to create the endowment fund is a win-win situation for her. “As a woman to find herself in a financial situation with a man willing to share the same is wonderful.”

Motivation, determination and resilience to overcome challenges

The biggest challenges for students in Fostering Success are financial barriers and the need for a trusted adult to support, guide and cheer them on. It’s a common misconception that foster youth attend college for free, said Angie Ruppe, director of Student Support Services and Fostering Success.

“In the state of Wisconsin – even with an estimated family contribution of zero dollars, Pell grant and max student loans – foster youth have an unmet financial need, and many of our students are working full time while carrying a full credit load,” she said.

 

Angie Ruppe, Fostering Success director
Angie Ruppe, Fostering Success director / UW-Stout

National research shows that only 1% to 3% of former foster youth complete any type of secondary degree and that 40% to 50% of youth become homeless 18 months after aging out of care. When supported, former foster youth complete their college degrees at a similar rate as their nonfoster-care peers, an average of 72%, Ruppe explained.

Viola believes the university has an enormous task to invite these students to understand how important education is, as well as the cost and commitment they have to make. “Retention is a big issue,” she said. “The Fostering Success staff support them in every way possible.”

Arriving in Fostering Success as an enrolled student is an indication of a student’s academic motivation, determination and resilience, Ruppe believes. “The challenge of navigating the complex processes of higher education without the benefit of family privilege is the epitome of success and represents why these students are worthy of the supportive services and advocacy that Fostering Success provides.

“Success in college, and at UW Stout, decreases a student's likelihood of life-long system dependence on public assistance and breaks the cycle of generational poverty. These are critical times in the lives of these youth, and they need support and resources to help reach their potential,” Ruppe said.

Giving Day donors can share the hashtag #STOUTGIVESBACK to encourage others to give and follow social media sites for the university, Alumni Association and Athletics for posts on information prior to and throughout the event.


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