SHERIDAN —Blending his love for young people and her passion for mentoring at-risk learners, Susan Thomas, wife of the late U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas, is now in her fifth year of operating “a mentoring program with a scholarship component,” she told community members at a lunch hosted by the Republican Women of Sheridan County Monday.
Nearly 30 people gathered to listen to Thomas speak about her work with the Craig and Susan Thomas Foundation.
Founded five years ago, about a year after Craig Thomas died, the foundation offers a scholarship and mentoring program to help at-risk youth attend Wyoming colleges, universities and trade schools; a grants program for organizations that support Wyoming’s at-risk students; and a leadership award program for individuals who go above-and-beyond to champion the needs of at-risk youth.
“I just want them to know that they, too, have ability. They, too, have the chance to shine,” Thomas said about her heart for students who may struggle with school and behavior problems and tumultuous home lives.
Thomas said the foundation is her way of keeping her husband’s legacy alive by honoring his love for young people. A teacher and mentor for 36 years for at-risk students, the foundation also gives her an outlet for her own passions, which also include clean water for Haiti and raising service dogs for war veterans with post traumatic stress disorder.
Though Craig Thomas spoke several times in Sheridan during his work as a senator, this was Susan Thomas’ first time addressing Sheridan residents on her own. She was born in Sheridan and spent her childhood years in Big Horn and on a ranch in Barnum.
Since 2008, the Craig and Susan Thomas Foundation has helped more than 50 students from nearly 30 towns around Wyoming attend post-secondary schools in the state. These at-risk learners don’t qualify for Hathaway Scholarships and often have limited options for higher education, Thomas said. The foundation is able to help 14 students per semester. Additionally, each scholarship recipient is mentored one-on-one by Thomas, who drove 20,000 miles around the state last year to talk with each student about school and life issues as needed. Ten students have already received a degree or certificate and are working in their fields.
“It’s important to listen to them and to hear their concerns,” Thomas said. “It’s a relationship you build with each student.”
Each student has his or her own story, Thomas said. One man was homeless and lived in public restrooms before receiving a scholarship to pursue a degree. A young woman graduated high school with a grade point average below 2.0. She is now in her fifth year of a pre-med program.
“My job now is inspiring excellence, providing opportunities and giving hope,” Thomas said.
In addition to scholarships for at-risk learners, the foundation has given more than $37,000 to 28 different organizations that support its goals. In Sheridan, the foundation supported a program that helps high school students achieve Certified Nurse Assistant certification by paying a portion of program tuition.
The foundation has also given out five $2,500 leadership awards to individuals who do a significant amount of work to help at-risk students.
“The mentorship idea is, I think, the most successful way of incentivizing and encouraging a young person to learn and believe in themselves,” said Rosie Berger, state representative for House District 51, following the presentation. “I’m really proud of Susan for what she’s doing.”
Students or organizations interested in pursuing a scholarship or grant through the Craig and Susan Thomas Foundation can find more information and applications on the website: www.thomas-foundation.com.