Help keep ‘at-risk’ seniors from slipping through the cracks

The third annual Rise Above Foundation Scholarship Golf Tournament is set for April 26 at the Woods Fort Country Club in Troy.

 Elsberry High School Counselor Julie Basler (left), Rise Above Scholarship Board Member Jeanette VanBeek and Lincoln County Prosecuting Attorney Leah Wommack-Askey present information about the Rise Above Scholarship program to the Elsberry School Board during the March meeting.

Elsberry High School Counselor Julie Basler (left), Rise Above Scholarship Board Member Jeanette VanBeek and Lincoln County Prosecuting Attorney Leah Wommack-Askey present information about the Rise Above Scholarship program to the Elsberry School Board during the March meeting.

Registration for the 18-hole tournament begins at 11 a.m. with a shotgun start at noon. All funds raised will support Rise Above Foundation scholarships for graduating seniors in Lincoln County.

The Rise Above Foundation was established in 2012 to benefit at-risk graduating Lincoln County seniors who face overwhelming obstacles in furthering their education. This includes individuals who may be considered average or below average academically, but it also encompasses those students who have been neglected, abandoned, emotionally or physically abused, or have found themselves in the juvenile system for one reason or another. These scholarship applicants share a common goal-to “rise above” their past and create a better future for themselves.

Lincoln County Prosecuting Attorney Leah Wommack-Askey was instrumental in getting this project off the ground and she credits some of her experiences as a prosecutor for opening her eyes to the need for such a program.

“I strongly believe education is the key to reduction in crime and as such I have been adamant that juveniles need to be in the classroom,” said Askey. “Many are truant on a daily basis and eventually flunk out, mostly because they simply do not attend school.”

One particular experience stands out more prominently in Askey’s mind than many of the others and had much to do with the birth of the scholarship foundation.

“The day came for my first hearing wherein a kid had missed the bulk of his ninth grade year and by the time we were in court he was technically in 10th grade,” said Askey. “I was prepared to ask the judge for a DYS sentence since it appeared this kid really could care less about going to school. When the case was called I immediately recognized the boy’s last name as the last name of a defendant I had recently charged for a brutal stabbing. The boy was respectful and polite both when he addressed the court and when addressing me. I couldn’t get it out of my mind that this kid might somehow be related to the defendant that was sentenced a few weeks prior to 25 years in the Department of Corrections. As I looked through my file it became apparent that while this young man missed a ton of school the year prior, he was back in class now and doing quite well. I recognized his home address to be in the area of where the stabbing crime was committed. I asked the judge for a recess so that I could speak directly with this young man.”

Askey said she learned much from that brief meeting. The boy was, in fact, the son of the defendant whom Askey had prosecuted for the stabbing crime some time earlier.

When Askey asked the boy why he was currently attending school, but had missed most of the previous year, he informed her that he had been skipping school during his ninth grade year in order to protect his mother from his father each day. Once his father was arrested, the boy had started attending school again on a regular basis.

“With that the Rise Above Scholarship Foundation was formed.”

Last year the first ever recipient of the Rise Above Foundation Scholarship was Elsberry graduate Shiloh Kirchhoff.

“This young lady fit the mold perfectly,” said Askey. “By the time she graduated she had been in 26 different schools in various states. Her mother ultimately abandoned her in her sophomore year of high school and she was essentially homeless for the remainder of her high school career.”

Despite this, Kirchhoff still maintained a high GPA throughout high school, was active in clubs, made the cheerleading squad and worked over 30 hours per week so that she could support herself.

Kirchhoff is currently attending college and studying to be a psychologist.

She has successfully completed her first semester and members of the Rise Above Foundation Board meet with her regularly to help her with scheduling, financial aid paperwork.

“Most importantly, we mentor her through the ups and downs of college life and serve as parental people in her life,” said Askey.

Elsberry High School Counselor Julie Basler, who has served on the board of the Rise Above Foundation since the fall of 2013, said she knew a little bit about Kirchhoff prior to helping her through the application process for the Rise Above Foundation Scholarship, but was surprised to find out just how much adversity this young lady had already faced in her life.

On March 12 Basler, Askey and fellow board member Jeanette Van-Beek made a presentation to the Elsberry R-II School Board emphasizing the need for constant vigilance in identifying at-risk seniors and steering them in the direction of the Rise Above Foundation so that they don’t fall through the cracks.

“When I was first approached about becoming a board member for the Rise Above Foundation, I questioned whether I wanted to commit my time and effort to the cause,” said VanBeek. “Then I remembered that as a former elementary educator I had sometimes encountered children who I later learned were getting themselves up, getting themselves dressed and catching the bus to school without the support and care of a parent. They wanted to be at school and they did what was needed so that they could come. I admired them and encouraged them.”

The application period for the Rise Above Foundation Scholarship is April 1-25. The Rise Above Scholarship Foundation hosts two fundraisers each year. In addition to the annual spring golf tournament, a “Monster Dash 5K Run” is held every fall near Halloween.

“Our goal is to raise $20,000 each year so that we can sponsor at least one student each year and see them through their degree with enough funds,” said Askey.

To reserve a spot for your team or for more information please contact Melody Yeager at (636) 528-8571 or Rob Cissell at (636) 295-5610.

Posted on Monday, April 7, 2014 at 8:58 am