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Connie Payton (center, red coat) joins DCFS scolarship winners and Director Bryan Samuels (far right) at Arlington Heights event.

Connie Payton celebrates her 50th birthday
giving instead of receiving;
Forty-eight DCFS youths receive college scholarships from record number of applications

Download Scholarship Book
More photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Arlington Heights, IL (July 22, 2004) - While most people marking a 50th birthday celebrate the accomplishments of a half century, Connie Payton of The Walter and Connie Payton Foundation spent her day celebrating the extraordinary academic achievements of college-bound DCFS scholarship winners.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the Walter Payton Foundation today presented 48 high school graduates with the scholarships at the Metropolis Ballroom in Arlington Heights. Scholarships recipients receive up to four consecutive years of tuition and academic fee waivers to be used at participating Illinois State Universities, as well as a $445 monthly stipend and a medical card. This year, a record 254 applicants submitted materials to be considered for the educational scholarships, up from 134 last year.

"There is no place that I'd rather be today than here congratulating these teens for a job well done," said Connie Payton. "They worked hard during their high school years despite facing some formidable obstacles. I commend them for meeting the challenge head on."

DCFS annually provides scholarships to youth who are currently under guardianship of the department or who have left the department's guardianship through adoption or private guardianship arrangements. Applicants seeking a DCFS scholarship must be 16 or older and possess a diploma from an accredited high school or GED program by the end of the school year. The students are chosen based on scholastic aptitude, academic rank, citizenship, personal character and community involvement.

"This is an important step towards maturity," said DCFS Director Bryan Samuels. "The mere fact that these students submitted essays and an application for the scholarship is a strong indication that they want to succeed and be productive contributors to society. I truly wish them the best."

A first time feature of this year's event is an orientation scheduled to take place prior to the luncheon. Students will be provided with a comprehensive overview of the scholarship program, detailing the procedure required to receive their monthly stipend and medical cards as well as the importance of maintaining their GPA. Additional topics to be discussed include tips students transitioning into college can benefit from, such as housing issues, medical care, campus safety and alcohol and drug abuse prevention.

"College is an important ingredient in reaching independence and I am glad these youths will be able to add this to the list of memorable experiences in their life," said Deputy Directory Cynthia Moreno. "I would like to congratulate everyone who recognized the importance of applying for this scholarship as well as those adults who constantly encourage them to excel."

The DCFS Scholarship Program began in 1964 with the awarding of four scholarships. Students can obtain scholarship applications and additional information about the DCFS Scholarship Program through their caseworkers.

Scholarship recipients will receive a waiver of tuition and fees if they attend any of the following Illinois State Universities:

Chicago State University Eastern Illinois University
Governors State University Western Illinois University
Illinois State University Northeastern Illinois University
Northern Illinois University Southern Illinois University
University of Illinois

Upon taking office, Governor Rod Blagojevich convened a task force to review the child welfare system and make recommendations on how DCFS could better meet the needs of children both living in and exiting state care. One of the key recommendations being implemented by DCFS is a more focused approach to helping children in state custody achieve academic success.

The scholarship program is just one of many avenues the department uses to support its priority of improving the educational outcomes of children in the foster care system. Recent DCFS education initiatives under the direction of the Division of Service Intervention are:

  • Increased efforts to ensure enrollment of 3 and 4 year-old children in DCFS system in Early Childhood Education programs.
  • Commissioning more detailed Chapin Hall studies that focus on DCFS children's performance in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), Parenting and Pregnant Teens performance in CPS, overrepresentation of wards in the special education classes, mobility issues, and children old for grade.
  • A new 8th grade enrollment fair was held in November 2003. This provided an opportunity for 8th graders in Chicago to enroll in high school. Various schools were available to take applications and Director Samuels addressed the students.
  • 60 additional slots for Parenting and Pregnant Teens were added to the Alternative School Network.
  • Increased relationship building with Chicago Public Schools.
  • Increased communications with Chicago Public Schools by conducting presentations to guidance counselors and collaborating with the CPS truancy initiative.
  • Meeting with South Suburban School Districts.

The 2004 recipients represent the following cities:

Fairview Heights
Lake Bluff
Sauk Village
Melbourne, Arkansas
Orlando, Florida
Jonesboro, Georgia
Salem, Virginia
Whitewater, Wisconsin

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Jill Manuel
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services


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