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Binda Foundation gift to boost foster care program

Aug. 6, 2010

KALAMAZOO--A $199,000 gift from the Binda Foundation of Battle Creek, Mich., will add professional staff to a Western Michigan University program that is the nation's largest and most comprehensive effort to provide college access to young people who have aged out of foster care.

The gift from the Guido A. and Elizabeth H. Binda Foundation will allow the program to hire an additional campus coach for the next three years to enhance the support services the University is able to provide to students in its Foster Youth and Higher Education Initiative. The initiative, also known as the Seita Scholars Program, will have 115 students enrolled this fall.

The Seita program, established at WMU by President John M. Dunn, is now beginning its third year. It is a comprehensive college program that provides tuition, a supportive campus network and year-round home for young people who have aged out of the foster care system and are on their own. The program is named for John Seita, a three-time WMU alumnus, Battle Creek resident and nationally recognized advocate for foster care youth.

"We commend Dr. Seita, President Dunn and Western Michigan University for taking a leadership role in meeting the needs of this country's most underserved college students--former foster youth," says Nancy Taber, executive director of the Binda Foundation. "In a remarkably short period of time, the Seita Program has served so many. It is an impressive program that will hopefully be replicated at other colleges and universities."

According to WMU's Dunn, private support for the program is critical to its success and is helping the campus build an infrastructure that can meet student needs.

"We are enormously grateful to the Binda Foundation for recognizing the unique challenges that face the students we serve with this program," Dunn says. "We continue to learn with and from our Seita Scholars and are committed to making sure they are successful in college and ready to start jobs and families and become productive and fulfilled citizens when they leave us. The campus coach is an important part of our ability to do that."

The Binda Foundation's Taber notes that it was the personal stories of Seita Scholars that convinced the foundation to fund an additional campus coach for the program.

"When listening to the experiences of some of the current Seita Scholars, one is immediately aware of how strong the bond is between the students and the campus coach," Taber says. "College can be an intimidating experience for anyone. Having a trained professional, with working knowledge of the foster care system, available for the students around the clock is a key component to their success."

Campus coaches provide the kind of guidance and support for Seita Scholars that parents typically provide to other students. They help them navigate the entry to college, provide support and encouragement as they develop academically and socially and are available to help in emergencies. Coaches also are charged with keeping tabs on academic progress and helping the scholars transition from college life to the job market. Currently, two campus coaches are part of the Seita program. The Binda Foundation funds will allow one more to be hired.

Nationally, about 20,000 young people age out of foster care each year. While about 70 percent of young people in foster care indicate that they want to go to college, only 20 percent of those who graduate from high school actually enroll in a higher education institution, and only a quarter of those students go on to earn a degree. About 500 Michigan young people age out of foster care each year. Until the Seita program was begun, only about a dozen of that 500 would typically earn a degree.

The WMU program was launched in 2007 to make college more accessible by providing a tuition scholarship, year-round housing and a support network to academically qualified students who have aged out of foster care. Originally conceived as a program for 15-20 students per year, the program began its first year with more than 50 students and has seen similar numbers of new students in each of the two following years.

The Binda Foundation is a private foundation established in 1977 by Guido and Elizabeth Binda. He was an architect specializing in school design and she was a former educator. They designed their foundation to support creative programs in areas throughout southwest Michigan where his firm had designed schools. In addition to its strong support for education, the foundation also supports arts and culture initiatives as well as health and human services programs. Guido Binda was a member of the WMU Foundation Board of Directors before his death in 1998. Elizabeth Binda died in 2009. Before her death, she knew of and was interested in the progress of WMU's Seita program.

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Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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