The loving support of two moms and a community pours out to University of Missouri students with only a dorm to call home.
Heading off to college can be an exciting, yet overwhelming time for both students and parents. Did we get all of the financial paperwork done? Do we have essentials and adornments ready for the dorm room? Did we put money in your account? Unless, of course, there is no “we,” and a student has to navigate those collegiate waters completely alone with no help, no support and no safety net. Then it becomes downright scary. And as Royce Schreiber and Suzanne Luther learned, it hits a lot closer to home than we think.
Last December, just weeks before Christmas, Schreiber posted to her Facebook page an alarming NPR article entitled “There’s No Place Like a Dorm Room for the Holidays.” It was about college students, many former foster care youths, who have no housing options other than staying in the dorms over holiday breaks, even though cafeterias and most everything on campus is shut down. The story touched a chord with Schreiber and Luther, both with daughters at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and they sprang into action to try to help these students.
“Royce immediately called residence halls at Mizzou to find out if there were kids staying there over the holiday break,” Luther says. “At first no one could give us any information, but then three days before Christmas, they called to give us a number. There were 51 kids staying in the dorms with nowhere else to go.”
Never underestimate the power of two mothers on a mission. With essentially 24 hours to get it done, Schreiber and Luther rallied troops in Jefferson City to donate enough items to fill 51 Christmas gift bags. It was a simple request calling on parents to help kids with no parents. The donations flooded in. “My whole porch was loaded with groceries, stocking stuffers, baked goods, gift cards and money to buy more gifts cards at restaurants close to campus,” Luther says. “We had to use a truck for the both of us to deliver it all.” For the students in need, it became a welcome and unexpected outpouring of support indeed. The holiday gift bag deliveries might have been the end of the story, except Schreiber asked one more question: “It was such an easy thing to do, but what else can we do to help?”
Schreiber and Luther then connected with Dr. Clark Peters, assistant professor at the MU School of Social Work, to help guide them on the next steps. Peters, who focuses much of his research on young people caught up in the system, provided some much-needed insight into the students he comes in contact with every day in his work.
“These kids are fiercely independent and mature because they’ve had to be,” Peters says. “They’ve had to have their act together to even get here, but when they don’t have the resources they need, they struggle.”
Both Schreiber and Luther continue to work on pulling extra resources together, including exploring local resources, organizations and people who can assist. Although they don’t have all the answers or know exactly how the pieces will fit, they do know these students have a huge need for personal mentoring, advice with basic life skills and financial support for life’s little emergencies, such as a broken-down car or an unexpected medical bill.
“We should do better at helping these kids,” Peters says. “Royce and Suzanne understand that and are trying to plug in and help wherever they can. They are the drivers in all of this and very tenacious. It’s been a joy to be part of their education in this process.”
As the project to help these Mizzou students progresses, Schreiber and Luther have set up a Facebook group to help coordinate and communicate their work. Posts include information on news and research, as well as support and local resources needed on an ongoing basis. The page is also a place to share how these dedicated students can be best supported and how others can step in to help remove obstacles that may prevent them from finishing their education: a place, thankfully, where those interested in supporting these courageous young students can help become part of the solution to their success.
For more information on this project or to be added to the Facebook group page, contact Suzanne Luther at 573-821-1007.