Reach Articles

Newsletter 2013

Average: 5 (1 vote)

Our REACH students have reached a major milestone.  They graduated from Lidgerwood in June and moved on to 7th grade at Garry Middle School! We no longer bus them to the Boys and Girls Club at the end of the school day. Garry has provided an afterschool classroom allowing our students the flexibility of attending either REACH or extra-curricular activities on any given day. Almost all the students have attended REACH for at least part of the week, and many attend everyday.


Garry has been very accommodating and supportive of REACH by including our Project Coordinator, Lauren Garske, in staff meetings and giving her an office. What has made this huge transition from elementary to middle school significantly easier for our students is the fact that Lauren is there for them during the school day. They frequently stop by her office. She has truly been a secure base for them.  She also stays in contact with REACH students who are at other schools by visiting them at least once a month, as do their lunch buddies. Some of these students make the effort to come to Garry whenever possible; some, once a week.  Please visit our new, improved website to see what is happening at REACH and what our students have to say.


Compared to non-REACH students, REACH is doing well.  59% of our students are in accelerated English, compared to 39% of other 7th graders attending Garry, and 48% of our students are in accelerated Math, compared to 26% of other Garry 7th graders. According to the 2012-2013 MSP (Measurements of Student Progress) scores, REACH exceeded both the school district average and the state average in math. In reading, REACH exceeded the school district average, but not the state average. Out of 17 Title 1 Schools in Spokane, REACH was 5th in Math and 5th in Reading. 


For the second year in a row our auction in May grossed over $100,000 with $50,000 earmarked for the college GET (Guaranteed Education Tuition) account.  There were over 80 new attendees, and 91 people raised their paddles for the GET program compared to 82 last year.  We had rave reviews about the venue—the old Kennel in the Martin Center at Gonzaga University--which we have reserved again for next year on Thursday, May 29, 2014 (Memorial Day is Monday, May 26).  The highlight of the auction was the incredible speeches by two REACH students.  Thanks to them and all who attended, purchased items, raised their paddles or contributed in other ways, our auction was a huge success. 


In grants this year we have received $5,000.00 from the Ludlow Foundation and $20,000 from the Quest Foundation. We are waiting to hear from Women Helping Women and the Inland Northwest Community Foundation. For those of you employed, you can write in Reach for the Future! as your designated non-profit for United Way.  We are almost halfway through our time with our REACH students (5 years down and 6 to go).  We have also raised about half the money necessary for the students’ college tuition fund.  We have done well, but still have a long way to go. We would appreciate your help in continuing donations and spreading the word to others who may want to contribute to guaranteeing college tuition and a brighter future for our REACH students.


Thank you for all your support.  This endeavor of helping our students graduate from high school and providing them with college tuition assistance is one big team effort. Thank you, team!!


Paul and Neice Schafer           Frank and Patsy Etter        Irv and Angie Zakheim

School bids farewell to first kids in Reach for the Future program

Average: 5 (2 votes)

School bids farewell to first kids in Reach for the Future program
Rebecca Nappi The Spokesman-Review

Tags:Lauren Umbdenstock GarskeLidgerwood Elementary School Neice Schafer Patsy Etter Reach for the Future

During after-school tutoring at the Boys & Girls Club, Lidgerwood Elementary School sixth-graders Edward Anos, 11, left, and Blake Dashiell, 12, work together on a spelling assignment. The boys are part of the Reach for the Future program that will provide a group of Lidgerwood students money for college.
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Reach for the Future

• In September 2008, 45 second-grade Lidgerwood Elementary School families signed up for the Reach for the Future program. The families were promised that after their children received a high school diploma or GED, Reach would pay college or vocational tuition that isn’t covered by scholarships – up to the cost of going to Washington State University.

The guarantee was in place even if the families moved away from Lidgerwood, as long as the families stayed in touch with Reach.

• Wednesday, 23 of the original group will graduate from Lidgerwood.

• From the original group, 10 eventually transferred to different schools in Spokane Public Schools; three transferred to the Mead School District and two to the East Valley School District.

• One family moved to Cusick, Wash., and another to Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle.

• Three families moved out of state – to Texas, North Dakota and Mississippi.

• Two families are temporarily out of contact.

• Reach has $650,000 in the students’ college account, enough right now to cover two years of four-year college education for every student and enough for every student to attend two years of community college.

• Reach relies on donations for operating costs and for the Washington State Guaranteed Education Tuition funds established for the children, but its three sponsors have guaranteed that the funding will be in place when the children reach college age. The sponsors are Frank and Patsy Etter, Paul and Neice Schafer, and Irv and Angie Zakheim.

• For more information, go to or call (509) 230-7577.

Lidgerwood Elementary School sixth-graders will graduate Wednesday.

In September 2008, when the children started second grade, their parents received astonishing news. Their children’s college tuition would be paid for through a new program called Reach for the Future.

And in the years leading up to college, the second-graders would receive after-school tutoring and mentoring.

In the Sept. 26, 2008, story announcing the ambitious Reach for the Future effort, Spokesman-Review reporter Dan Hansen wrote: “This is a feel good story that will get better with age.”

It has gotten better. More complicated, too. But the program thrives because the focus remains on the prize: these students’ future.

“Not many kids get this chance,” said Alex Olmos, 12. “It’s going to be a very good change of my life.”
The prime movers

Patsy Etter and Neice Schafer – the women who started Reach for the Future – were tired but exhilarated one recent Friday. The night before, the program held its annual fundraising auction.

Etter, 68, and Schafer, 63, began dreaming of this college plan more than a decade before it happened. Etter had worked with at-risk students as a teacher and counselor. Schafer had worked as a coach.

They enlisted their husbands’ support, raised money in advance from their own savings and from donations, and called upon their friends to act as lunch-buddy mentors and as after-school tutors.

They chose the north Spokane school because 84 percent of its students qualified for subsidized lunches, and most of the parents earned less than $36,000 a year. Only 9 percent of children whose parents earn under $36,000 ever make it to college.

One month after Reach was launched, the U.S. economy collapsed.

“We were doing well with the fundraising, but some of the people who had pledged just couldn’t do it, and it was understandable,” Etter said.

Fortunately, everything was in place: the lunch buddies, the four days a week after-school tutoring in a classroom at the Boys and Girls Club near Lidgerwood.

And they had hired Lauren Umbdenstock Garske as project coordinator, a woman Etter and Schafer call “our rock.”

The women did their homework before launching Reach. They expected to lose many of the second-graders, because turnover is high in low-income schools. They were warned that only about 15 of the original students would likely still be at Lidgerwood by sixth-grade graduation. The program beat those odds; 23 of the original 45 are still there.

They didn’t expect the Washington State Guaranteed Education Tuition funds that they have established for the children to more than double in cost in just four years.

Newsletter November 2012

Average: 5 (1 vote)

Dear Friends,

It is hard to believe that our 46 REACH students are now in the 6th grade—their last year at Lidgerwood. We are working hard to prepare our students for a successful transition from elementary to middle school. We have meetings scheduled with middle school staff to make plans on how REACH can best function in relation to middle school. Lidgerwood feeds into Garry MS.

Several of the students have transferred to other schools, mostly in Spokane. All the ones in town are visited by their lunch buddies or Lauren Garske, our Project Coordinator. Lauren keeps track of their academic progress and informs them of REACH’s online educational offerings. Even though they are no longer at Lidgerwood, many of them are still able to attend the afterschool program at the Boys and Girls Club. We added four new students to the program who entered the class after second grade when the promise of college tuition assistance was made. All students in the class had the opportunity of after school tutoring even though they were not guaranteed scholarships. These four who regularly attended the after school program have now been granted college tuition assistance.

For the second year in a row the REACH students scored 1st out of 17 Title 1 schools in Reading. They also scored 2nd in Science and 8th in Math. Generally, the REACH students continue to outperform non REACH students in their own classrooms in all three subjects. This year a major focus in the after school program is helping the students improve their math skills. Kudos to our students and to our dedicated tutors for such good academic results.

This summer we met with Dr. Shelley Redinger, the new superintendent of Spokane Public Schools, who was making an effort to meet with all the community partners. REACH was invited to present our program to the School Board this October. Lauren showed a short video about REACH and Alyson, one of our students, talked about what REACH meant to her. She did an amazing job for a 6th grader. The board president mentioned that she would be a hard act to follow.

Our auction in May raised more money than ever. We netted over $106,000.00 with $60,000.00 ear- marked for the GET tuition account. Many, many thanks to all who attended, purchased items or contributed in other ways. The auction continues to grow. Next year we will be in an even larger venue on the Gonzaga campus—the old Kennel in the Martin Center. Please save the date—Thursday, May 30th, 2013 (Memorial Day is May 27). Again, for this year’s auction is an old 3-bedroom renovated Italian farmhouse located in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy--plus other great items.

The Ludlow Foundation awarded us $5,000 again this year. We have received $5,000 from the Quest Foundation and will receive the remaining $5,000 in 6 months. For those of you still employed, you can write in Reach for the Future! as your designated non-profit for the United Way. Please tell your friends and family. With all of your help we are approaching the halfway mark in terms of the tuition fund. But we have a considerable way to go and would appreciate any financial assistance you can give for providing a more promising future for our REACH students.

Thank you for your continuing interest and support—both financial and volunteer. The students are progressing. The promise is coming closer to a reality.

Paul and Neice Schafer Frank and Patsy Etter Irv and Angie Zakheim

When gratitude leads…

Average: 5 (2 votes)

By Lauren Garske (’07)

As you walk into the Reach for the Future after-school classroom, it is not hard to notice how thankful the Reach students have become for the opportunity they have been given – college tuition upon high school graduation.

Beyond the colorful bookshelves, worn tables and chairs, and the controlled chaos of students working together to solve a difficult geometry problem, my desk sits in the back corner, hardly noticeable. Student artwork and letters cover the front and sides of the desk. Some art glows with bright flowers and hearts; other messages are simply understated. They all reflect the same message: Thank you.

I did not expect the students as second graders to understand the magnitude of the gift they had been given. At our induction ceremony in 2008, the excitement surrounding the man with the TV camera overshadowed the actual reason for the celebration. Several students jumped at the opportunity to be interviewed. One student was asked, “What college would you like to go to when you graduate from high school?” Beaming, he replied, “Gonzaga Anniversary.”

Later that evening we inducted the students by placing a golden key around their neck. The message on the key: “Reach for the Future, the key to your success.” As we gave out these keys we talked about how they open many doors for the students. Afterwards, one boy came to me and asked, “So, what door to the college does this key open?” His confusion made sense. Our students were only seven years old.

Now they are 10. As our students mature they are learning that Reach for the Future is less about the excitement over media attention, and more about the opportunity awaiting them after they walk across the high school stage. With this realization comes appreciation, which they have begun to express in a variety of ways.

One day this year I opened the door to our classroom at the Boys and Girls Club and nearly tripped on a letter that had my name drawn in big black and red letters with a neon pink background. On the inside a rainbow of colors drowned the page, with the words, “Thank you for every day you come and teach us and help us make it to college. And thank you for giving us this big chance in life.”

Gratitude hasn’t only been expressed in their thoughtful words or beautiful pictures. Their appreciation comes in the most subtle gestures. One student chooses to hug me or a volunteer after class everyday even though he got in trouble. Another wants to stay after class to finish the homework packet, despite having more fun activities to participate in at the Boys and Girls’ Club. Then, there is the student who, for the first two years of the program, stormed out of our classroom daily refusing to participate. He eventually started showing up to Reach with a smile on his face, inquiring about how to become a student of the month. And my favorite, the student who delicately whispers to a volunteer,” Thanks for helping me with reading, my scores went up.”

Their thoughtful letters and genuine gestures inspire me daily. Of course, it is wonderful to see test scores and grades improving. But what truly warms my heart is witnessing these students gain knowledge of important life lessons, especially learning to show gratitude. I believe it is through these lessons that success will follow in all other aspects of their lives.

(Editor’s note: As project coordinator for Reach for the Future, Lauren Garske’s work includes organizing tutoring, mentoring, coordinating volunteers for the program, lunch buddies, and other activities. Ultimately, she will help the Reach students with college and career planning.)

1 Comment

Trisha Christian's picture

As a Reach For The Future parent, not only are my kids thankful, but we are most thankful. Not only for the college tuition but also for the tutoring, mentoring and friendships they have built in the last three years. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity my children have.

Newsletter November 2011

No votes yet

Dear Friends,

Our 46 REACH students are now in the 5th grade—much taller and more focused on afterschool work than their little 2nd grade selves with whom we began the program. Their 4th grade test scores are very encouraging! Out of Spokane’s 17 Title 1 schools, Lidgerwood 4th graders scored No. 1 in Reading, No. 2 in Math and No. 5 in Writing. The REACH students outperformed other students in their own classrooms: 81% passed Reading (50% non-REACH passed); 69% passed Math (59% non-REACH passed); 69% passed Writing (38% non-REACH passed). We are very proud of our REACH students and grateful to our dedicated tutors who help make such achievement possible.

A subcommittee worked this summer on revamping our afterschool program to ensure that all students are mastering basic and grade level reading, math and writing skills. LaVerne McGrath, a reading specialist, has assessed some of our students and pinpointed their gaps in reading so we can specifically target problem areas with individual students. With tutor Mary Jo Ormsby’s help we have assessed math skills and are focusing on areas of weakness with fun math games. Susan Stanaway is continuing the enhancement program for those at grade level and above. Susan Virnig from Get Lit! helps improve the students’ writing skills. Our project coordinator, Lauren Garske, has added a social and emotional learning component since developing good social and emotional skills improves academic achievement and is critical for success in life. With these changes, we anticipate REACH scores to soar even higher next year. Please let Lauren know if any of you would like to volunteer as tutors.

Even during a recession, our auction in May raised more money than ever before--$86,000.00 with $36,000.00 ear-marked for our GET tuition account. Additionally, the Ludlow Foundation awarded us $5,000 for the tuition fund. Unfortunately the state of Washington Guaranteed Education Tuition Program (GET) raised the per unit price to $163.00 (It was $74.00 when we started.). We have a total of 5,158 GET units—enough for 46 students’ first year of college and 5 students’ second year at a 4-year college or all 46 students for two years at a community college with enough for 5 students’ third year at a 4-year college. We are doing well but need to continually raise more money for the GET so that in seven years we have enough for all students who desire to complete a 4-year college education. Many of our students will qualify for other scholarships and Pell grants so the picture is actually better. We guarantee last dollar assistance after all other aid is provided.

Our auction has outgrown the Boys and Girls Club and will move to the Globe Room at Gonzaga University on Thursday, May 31, 2012. (Memorial Day is May 28th). Save the date! A special item for this year’s auction is an old 3-bedroom renovated Italian farmhouse located in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy. Start dreaming!

If you are looking for holiday gift ideas, or if your family wants to donate to a charity in each others’ names rather than exchanging as many gifts, consider giving a GET credit(s) toward fulfilling the hopes of our REACH students. Such generosity will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you all for your support. This is a team endeavor. The scores are finally showing how much everyone’s efforts have helped the REACH students progress.

Paul and Neice Schafer Frank and Patsy Etter Irv and Angie Zakheim

Field trip to Gonzaga
Field trip to Gonzaga

Newsletter November 2010

No votes yet

Dear Friends,

We’ve embarked on our third school year with REACH students from Lidgerwood who are now fourth graders. It truly feels like the seeds we are planting are starting to grow. When comparing our students 2009-2010 progress scores to the previous 3rd grade scores (2008-2009), Lidgerwood ranked 3rd out of the 17 Spokane School District Title I schools for percentage meeting math standards compared to 10th out of 17 for the previous class and ranked 5th out of 17 for reading compared to 17th out of 17 for the previous class. Of 40 students tested, 24 (60%) met expected standards in both reading and math, 3 students did not meet standards in either, and the rest met expected standards in one, but not the other. This year we are focusing on additional efforts to help all students improve their reading.

Since fourth grade classes can be larger and several students have moved (but are still involved with REACH), there are 17 new students to whom we are offering after school tutoring at the Boys and Girls Club but cannot offer college tuition assistance at this time. They are invited to participate in all the dropout prevention and enrichment activities REACH provides at Lidgerwood and the Club.

We are honored that Spokane School District has chosen Reach for the Future! as “Partner of the Month” for November. We are also pleased to have two new board members—Bob Finn, Alumni Director at Gonzaga University and Jon Lemberg, CFO of Inland Construction Company. REACH is thrilled to inform you that our Project Coordinator, Lauren Umbdenstock, married Griffin Garske in September and is now Lauren Garske. Griffin volunteers as a lunch buddy and coach for our students.

Financially we have been fortunate and are weathering the recession. Although individual donations have on the whole been smaller, we continue to have more donors. Our auction in June was more successful than last year’s. In 2009, our total revenue was $154,550. To date we have raised $141,946 for 2010. Since it’s inception, REACH has raised almost $700,00.00 and deposited $360,00.00 in the state of Washington Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program. We have enough GET units to pay for the first year of college for all 46 REACH students. With the GET units increasing in price every year, it is imperative that we continue to attract more donors.

REACH is truly a collaborative endeavor that works because of many partnerships—Spokane School District, Lidgerwood, Boys and Girls Club, Durham Bus Services, over 50 tutors, more than forty lunch buddies, a dedicated auction committee, a variety of college volunteers and many more of you who are committed to help support and nurture 46 youngsters toward a hopeful future. We are grateful for your generosity of time, expertise and donations. The fruits of our labor are beginning to blossom.

Paul and Neice Schafer Frank and Patsy Etter Irv and Angie Zakheim

Program puts college dreams within reach

Average: 5 (1 vote)

Program ensures Lidgerwood second-graders get a chance at college
Rebecca Nappi The Spokesman-Review

Tags:Lidgerwood Elementary Our Kids:
Video: Reach for the future
Photos by COLIN MULVANY photo

Reach for the Future mentor Jeff Hunter works with Lidgerwood Elementary School second-grader Austyn Christian, 7, during an after-school mentoring program at the Boys & Girls Club in north Spokane on April 13. The Reach for the Future program has promised to help the Lidgerwood class graduate high school and attend college.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)
Reach for the Future

Forty-seven Lidgerwood Elementary second-graders are in the program. Reach will follow these 47 students through high school. When a student receives a high school diploma or GED, Reach will pay college or vocational tuition that isn’t covered by scholarships – up to the cost of going to Washington State University.

Reach partners with the Boys & Girls Club of Spokane County and Spokane Public Schools.

Students attend an after-school program Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. housed out of the Boys & Girls Club, 544 E. Providence Ave., in north Spokane.

The after-school program consists of reading, writing, math, arts and crafts, cultural and vocational studies, and field trips and college campus tours.

Students also participate in a lunch buddy program. Professionals from the Spokane community eat with their assigned lunch buddy once a month.

Reach relies on donations for operating costs and for the Washington State Guaranteed Education Tuition funds established for the children, but its three sponsors have guaranteed that the funding will be in place when the children reach college age. The sponsors are Frank and Patsy Etter, Paul and Neice Schafer, and Irv and Angie Zakheim.

Project coordinator Lauren Umbdenstock runs the day-to-day program with the help of approximately 45 volunteers and 35 lunch buddies.

For more information, go to or call (509) 624-2663.

The dream was born for Neice Schafer 25 years ago when she read an article about a California woman who “adopted” a kindergarten class in a poor section of Oakland and promised the students a college education.

Schafer remembers thinking, “Someday I hope to do that.” But she tucked away the dream and went about her busy life as high school coach, wife, mother, community volunteer.

The years passed for Schafer, but the dream never passed away. When she retired from coaching, when her two boys flew the nest, when Schafer hungered to do more, she remembered the example of her father, a lawyer who practiced in East Los Angeles for 62 years, championing the rights of poor people who often paid him in chickens, fruits, vegetables and handmade leather purses. Her father was the first in his extended family to go to college, and once he walked the path, the rest of the family members felt comfortable to walk it, too.

About five or six years ago, Schafer resurrected the dream and began to dream it with another person, her buddy Patsy Etter, who had long worked with at-risk kids, first as a teacher and then as a counselor. Etter’s grandparents came through Ellis Island, and education became their assimilation ticket. Etter’s mother grew up in a coal mining town in Pennsylvania and lost her father and stepfather in mining accidents. Etter’s mother loved school, but during the Depression, she had to quit to work in a sewing factory.

“She would be there with tears running down her eyes because she wasn’t in school,” Etter says. “She finally went back to high school. She finished two years in one and graduated as valedictorian. She got a scholarship for nursing and graduated top in her class at Jefferson Medical College (in Philadelphia) and ended up being a nurse anesthetist.”

Schafer and Etter knew that the first child in a family who goes to college possesses the power to change a family’s history. So during their morning workouts and afterward while drinking lattes, the dreams of Schafer and Etter united. They brainstormed for a year. What exactly should they do? Open a group home for foster kids? A college program for single moms?

Then, on May 23, 2004, “60 Minutes” aired a segment on Eugene Lang, who started the I Have a Dream Foundation. In that program, community members “adopt” classrooms of low-income school children and promise them college education, as well as a volunteer commitment to help them acquire the skills to get there.

The women found the focus of their shared dream. They would adopt a classroom in Spokane and promise college. The women began talking up their united dream, and people Schafer and Etter have known throughout their busy lives stepped forward to share in it – lawyers, teachers, coaches, fundraising-savvy women and Gonzaga University alumni.

The women were in contact with the I Have a Dream Foundation, and the foundation was helpful – it has assisted in the launch of 200 programs in 27 states – but it was reorganizing, and its officials wanted the women to wait a year. But Schafer and Etter were ready to go.

So they went on their own, called their dream “Reach for the Future” and chose the two second-grade classrooms at Lidgerwood Elementary School. In late September, the parents of Lidgerwood’s second-graders received a flier in the mail. Come to school for a special announcement, the flier said; pizza will be served.
Pieces fall into place

The pizza flier arrived in the busy home of Corey and Trisha Christian, both now 29. They had two Lidgerwood second-graders – Marquita and Austyn – and a newborn, Brookelynn.

Trisha, a Shadle Park High School graduate, once dreamed of being a prosecuting attorney. She had the smarts. But Trisha knew she would have to pay for college herself, and she didn’t want to go into debt to pursue a dream she mostly kept to herself.

She met Corey her senior year at Shadle. A soft-spoken young man who lived in five houses in high school, he had transferred from Rogers. His parents were completely out of his life; the grandparents who helped raise him hadn’t finished middle school. Aspirations of college never entered Corey’s imagination.

Trisha encouraged Corey to finish high school with her. He did. Trisha’s family cheered as Corey accepted his diploma on graduation night. Only one member of his family, an aunt, attended.

The high school sweethearts married Oct. 8, 2000, and before their first child, Austyn, arrived, they dared to dream about college for him, though no one had done so for them. When Austyn was little, Corey and Trisha became foster parents. One child, Marquita, who joined the family when she was 4, felt like a keeper, and they were offered the opportunity to adopt her. But Trisha worried. She remembers thinking: “I can give her a life, but I can’t promise her an educational future.” She talked to Corey. “We decided if it was meant to be, something would work out.”

Trisha has child development certification through the Spokane Regional Health District and works in a therapeutic child care center. Corey, recently unemployed due to the economy, worked for a life insurance company for eight years.

In 2007 and early 2008, the Christians wanted to move to Everett because relatives offered them land to build on. They tried to sell their north Spokane home, but it didn’t move, though the housing market here was still OK. Corey looked for a job in Everett, but nothing materialized. Well, they thought, we’ll start the kids in second grade and move when the school year finishes.

The Christians walked into that pizza meeting Sept. 24. Schafer and Etter stood in front of the parents of Lidgerwood’s second-graders and said: Our dream is to send your children to college, to tutor them along the way, to help them get scholarships and grants and then pay for whatever remains. We are doing this, they explained, with lots of help. The united dream of these two women had evolved into a collective dream, shared by hundreds of Spokane folks.

Trisha looked at Corey. She burst into tears. The dream for their children – college – could now become reality. They wonder now what might have happened to their college dreams if they had moved to Everett. They wonder how they would feel now if they had turned down the chance to adopt Marquita because of their college worries. They never take for granted the fact that Marquita and Austyn are the first in their families to be walking the path to college. They never take for granted that Marquita and Austyn are not walking alone.
Lives changing already

The classroom in the Boys & Girls Club in north Spokane is wild today. The Lidgerwood second-graders come four days a week after school for tutoring and recreation, under the guidance of project coordinator Lauren Umbdenstock.

Dreams, no matter how warm and fuzzy, take work. Umbdenstock sits at a table with five second-graders and gently but firmly explains why their rowdy behavior on the bus was disrespectful. Marquita and Austyn sit at another table and talk dreams.

The siblings are about 4 feet tall and weigh about 60 pounds each. They are both 7 years old. Marquita has lost eight teeth so far; Austyn’s lost four. They look enough alike that Corey and Trisha are often asked about their “twins.” Austyn’s good at math; Marquita’s good at reading. At home, they help each other.

Marquita says she dreams about being a singer, a veterinarian, a professional roller skater, a writer, a hockey player and a submarine mechanic because “you get around $3,000 a year.”

Austyn says, “I want to be a famous hockey player. I want to be a lacrosse player, too. I want to be a soccer player, too. I want to sell cars and I want to own the place and I hope we get around $1 million.”

They have been told many times, especially by their parents, how lucky they are to be Lidgerwood second-graders destined for college. Marquita has obviously internalized the message. She says, in a burst of words: “This thing is going to change our whole life! I’m getting a one-in-a-lifetime chance to do anything I want! I can grow up to be anything!”

She points to the framed photos of her, Austyn and the other Lidgerwood students lining the bookcases. These photos will be updated each year, with the hope that someday, the children in these photos will wear graduation caps and gowns. The lives of these little ones are changing already, thanks to a dream that began for Schafer 25 years ago.

Schafer and Etter give talks throughout the Inland Northwest about Reach for the Future, and they always mention that every other Inland Northwest classroom is open for a similar “adoption.”

“Dreams are important,” Marquita says, with the confidence of a much older child. “You can dream wild things that no one ever dreamed of, and it’s really, really fun.”

Rebecca Nappi can be reached at (509) 459-5496 or

Kids get early start on college

Average: 5 (1 vote)

Kids get early start on college
Effort provides tutoring, promises tuition assistance to 50 Spokane second-graders
Dan Hansen The Spokesman-Review

This is a feel-good story that will get better with age. Give it 11 years, and the kids who are now second-graders at Lidgerwood Elementary School will be starting college.

And you can bet a lot of them will go, too, despite numbers that suggest otherwise. Numbers like 84 – the percentage of students at the north Spokane school who qualify for subsidized lunches, one indicator of poverty. Numbers like 9 – the percentage of children who go to college among families that earn less than $36,000 a year.

But the 50 kids at Lidgerwood face far better odds, thanks to a group of community angels who are taking the second-graders under their wing.

Every day after school, those children will go to the Boys & Girls Club of Spokane to be tutored by retired teachers and mentored by their benefactors, who have formed a nonprofit group called Reach for the Future. The program will evolve to meet the kids’ needs as long as they’re in Spokane schools.

After that, the group will pay any portion of the kids’ college tuition that isn’t covered by scholarships – up to the cost of attending Washington State University. The students may choose vocational training instead.

The effort could cost as much as $1.8 million, if every kid goes to a four-year school and none gets scholarships, said Neice Schafer, a Reach for the Future board member. So far, the group has raised $360,000, putting much of it into state college accounts and using the rest for program costs, like hiring a full-time project coordinator.

A lot of people are involved, but three couples have put their own finances on the line, guaranteeing that when the kids are ready for college, the money will be there.

The kids who wore graduation caps for Thursday’s announcement fidgeted and whispered and didn’t appear to understand the fuss. What does a 7-year-old know of tuition costs?

But their parents, who first learned of the offer Wednesday night when they were invited to the school for free pizza, were stunned and emotional.

“I cannot even explain how phenomenal this is,” said Paul May, whose son, Titus, has the opportunity to be the first in his family to earn a degree. “It’s like a weight just lifted off me.”

“We were sort of nervous about how we were going to do college for two,” said Corey Christian.

“Two at the same time,” added his wife, Trisha, fighting back tears.

The couple already had a son when they adopted a daughter of the same age earlier this year. They also have an infant daughter.

“This is a huge gift for our kids,” said Trisha Christian, who works at a child care center.

Schafer said the idea was hatched when she and a friend, Patsy Etter, were exercising one morning. Both had seen a television program the night before about the I Have a Dream Foundation, which helps groups sponsor students nationwide.

What followed was four years of organizing and fundraising.

The Spokane group dropped plans to work through the national foundation because it was not adding new cities this year, and they didn’t want to wait. Already, it had taken longer – and required more effort – than anyone expected.

Board members visited Spokane elementaries serving high-needs neighborhoods and selected Lidgerwood in part because it has a smaller group of second-graders than the others. It’s also within reasonable distance of the Boys & Girls Club, where many Lidgerwood students already hang out.

Now, they hope other adults will sponsor other classes, whether from Lidgerwood or elsewhere.

Board member Barb Cronin likes to think about the ripple effects.

The Lidgerwood kids who go to college may motivate their siblings to do the same. College-educated adults are more likely to send their own kids.

On Thursday, as Cronin watched still-stunned parents filing out of Lidgerwood, she speculated that the program had already made an impact, by easing a burden on the families and providing hope. Cronin, a retired nurse, denied that whatever she contributes in time or money could be called a sacrifice.

“It’s a huge commitment; it’s a 10-year commitment. But life’s a commitment,” Cronin said. “If we’re not committed to children, I don’t know where we’d be.”