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Updated 10:00 AM February 2, 2009
 

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Blavin Scholarship eases way from foster care to U-M

In 2007 Cherish Thomas received a letter from the University telling her she qualified for a $5,000 award from the Paul and Amy Blavin Scholarship Fund. Thomas grew up in the foster care system and this information was a part of her financial aid application.

Delia Alvarez learned that she had received a Blavin Scholarship from her caseworker in the Department of Human Services when she inquired about other sources of financial aid to help her finish her education.

Both students say being a Blavin Scholar changed their lives.

Paul (BBA '86) and Amy Blavin believe that a "lack of financial resources often makes the thought of attending college appear to be nothing more than a dream for former foster children. Our motivation for taking part in the Presidential Challenge that matched our gift dollar-for-dollar and establishing the Blavin Scholarship was to recognize and support the efforts of special individuals who have conquered adversity and are determined to achieve their educational goals."

The Blavins have created a $2 million endowed scholarship to support students who have aged out of the foster care system.

Paul Blavin believes that his student experience at U-M changed his life, and says he and Amy want to provide the same opportunity to students with the most need and who are the least able to help themselves. He enjoys getting to know the Blavin Scholars personally and spends time with them whenever he comes to campus.

Alvarez got help applying for the scholarship from Vickie Crupper, the associate director in the Office of Financial Aid, which administers the scholarship. Both Alvarez and Thomas received one of the five scholarships awarded the first year. There are seven Blavin Scholars this year.

U-M students who were part of the Michigan foster care system and indicate this by self identifying their foster care experience when they complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form are eligible for the Blavin Scholarship.

"The Blavin Scholarship provides these students with financial support that brings peace of mind financially and that makes a real difference in their lives," says E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs. "We also recognize that if they are to succeed at U-M, we need to address the practical challenges they face that traditional students may not. These students can thrive with additional support, mentoring and a community."

The Department of Human Services reports that of the 500 young people that leave the Michigan foster care system each year, about 20 percent continue their education after high school. Of that, fewer than 25 students complete a degree. To address this, Harper convened a committee to design a support system for these students at U-M. The committee met with the Blavins and the current Blavin Scholars to learn what unique needs and challenges they face and it has presented a preliminary report with ideas on how to enhance community life for these students.

Each student has a different story, and their personal experiences shape their individual needs, says Robert Holmes, University ombudsman and chair of the Blavin Design Team. "Most important, we want to create a sense of community for these students that will feel like they have a surrogate family on campus," Holmes says.

Thomas and Alvarez both intend to graduate this year and go on to graduate school. Alvarez will take a year off to work before studying acupuncture and herbal medicine. Thomas will pursue her studies in social work and public policy and plans to establish a center for youths involved in foster care and the juvenile justice system.

For more information contact the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs at assist-me@umich.edu.

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