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Teeing off for brighter hopes

When families open their homes to children whose own homes have fallen apart, they represent perhaps our finest human instincts: compassion, faith, and generosity. Still, in providing basic nurturing, care, and guidance, these families often reach their capacity for sacrifice, without the additional challenge of providing for a foster child's higher education.

"The majority of foster families are working, middle-class people who don't have the money to put an extra child through college," says Kimberly Coe of Essex Junction, board president of the Vermont Foster/ Adoptive Family Association (VFAFA). Coe knows whereof she speaks, as she and her husband, Alan, have two adopted daughters, Hannah and Tovah. "It's important for foster children to know that there are resources and that help is available."

VFAFA and the Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF) have long sought to address this problem. In 1995 several DCF staffers established an annual tournament at the Vermont National Golf Course in South Burlington to raise money for what became known as the Marion Paris Scholarship. "Marion works at the DCF and has really kept this effort alive," Kim explains. "The association named the scholarship as a tribute to her, but Marion herself never calls it that!"

The event isn't your typical celebrity golf tournament; instead, teeing off are teams of coworkers for state agencies and local businesses, social workers, treatment providers, adoptive parents, and others (totaling 106 participants this past September). Lots of fun is had, and every year a surprising amount of money is generated for the cause.

However, the tournament's success created a new concern. "Our board members are volunteers," says Kim, "people who have jobs and are raising kids who, in many cases, have had significant trauma. Managing a scholarship isn't something within our area of expertise." Spreading the word has been a particular problem. "We weren't spending all the money," says Kim, "even though we knew that the need was out there."

In 2009 VFAFA turned to VSAC's Vermont Scholarship Fund for assistance. Together they formed a selection committee and will begin granting scholarships in 2010. In addition to providing administrative support for the scholarship, VSAC provides guidance for families attempting to find their way through the college financing maze; in doing so, the organization can educate families about further sources of financial assistance for higher education.

Some 1,136 Vermont children are currently in foster care. "Many of these kids have spent their lives in transition, with no one to talk to about their long-term hopes and dreams," says Kim Coe.

The VFAFA Scholarship can be a place to begin those conversations.