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Community starts college funds

By Katharine Calabro - kcalabro@ftimes.com

Clinton County is making an effort as a community to enroll kindergarteners into CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings accounts starting this January through Promise Indiana.

The Clinton County Promise Program began when Ali Mullen, coordinator for Promise, was working with the Frankfort Education Foundation and began meeting people who got her in touch with Promise Indiana.

From there, a committee of 10 was formed to try and gain approval for the grant. Unfortunately, the team was unsuccessful in 2017 but reapplied in March of this year and received approval.

The grant is funded through the Lilly Endowment, Inc. with support of Promise Indiana and the Indiana Education Savings Authority to allow the campaign a successful start. The program has also gained funds through The Center Township Board of Trustees. Alongside with them, the YMCA, Community Schools of Frankfort Superintendent Don DeWeese, Frankfort Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shan Sheridan and COACH Kids of Clinton County Executive Director Susan Grasham, have all showed support for the Promise Program.

Center Township Board of Trustees agreed to commit $10,000 every year for three years to be added into CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings accounts. The Community Foundation of Clinton County also committed to starting off each account with $25.

Once a child registers, the community puts in the initial $25. From there, the child identifies five champions who will act as liaisons and each add $25. Once the child identifies these champions, the community adds $75, giving the child a total of $125 in their account to start.

Mullen said the spearheaders of the campaign have been The United Way and The Community Foundation of Clinton County. Carolina Booth, executive director for the United Way of Clinton County said supporting this effort is connected with the United Way’s vision.

“Our mission is to fight for education, health and financial sustainability,” she said. “If we want to get people out of the poverty cycle, this gives a good opportunity to kids while changing the way they see themselves.”

Booth said the goal is to create a college culture and to get children dreaming about their futures. She said this program opens up those kinds of conversations for families and helps gear people towards maintaining that mindset.

“We have to start giving support to our kids in the community so they can be successful,” Booth said. “With this, we can start changing their odds.”

Before the program starts enrollment in 2019, those spearheading the campaign are helping spread the word and getting children in Clinton County excited about their future. This includes reaching out to all schools and becoming involved.

In September, the United Way of Clinton County took kindergarteners from Blue Ridge, Suncrest and Clinton Central Elementary to Indiana University Kokomo. Booth said this allowed for children to start getting submerged in a college culture.

While no 5-year-old will be picking their major, Booth said this shows them what a college experience can be like.

“We took over 300 kids and we didn’t lose anyone, so we did it right,” Booth said, jokingly. “Even if these kids go to a technical school it’s important they start thinking early.”

Mullen said in May, both Rossville and Clinton Prairie Elementary schools will visit Purdue University to continue this effort. The campaign plans to get word out by getting involved in Grandparents Day.

“Kids get a bunch of gifts for Christmas and then sometimes don’t play with them very long,” Mullen said. “Encouraging a grandparent to sign them up and get their grandchild set up for the future is another alternative.”

The Promise Program is specifically for kindergarten children in Clinton County. With around 500 children enrolled throughout the county, Mullen said they would like to see around 70 percent join the program.

The accounts don’t have to be started by just grandparents or parents and aren’t just limited to a four-year college. Mullen said accounts can be started by any guardian and can be used for technical schools after high school.

“Any ideas to plant seeds of hope is what we are trying to do,” she said. “The overall message is to spread the hope and have them start thinking about their future.”

Mullen said the program will soon launch a website, making the application available online. Physical copies will also be available at all county schools.