DECATUR, Ill. (WICS/WRSP) — A generous gift from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation is giving students in Decatur a headstart on their future.
Over $2 million was pumped into the new Jerry J. Dawson Civic Leadership Institute.
"It's exciting for so many levels, it's not only exciting for our community which is very important the idea that this is directly connected to our community and the needs of our community is essential," Program Coordinator Dr. Juanita Morris said.
Dr. Juanita Morris said the main focus is identifying areas of interest in political engagement, social justice in law enforcement, and healthcare.
"Maybe they're interested in politics, maybe they're interested in education, maybe they're interested in law enforcement," Dr. Morris explained. "It's my job to make sure I not only connect them with the academic components of that."
Students can take civic leadership classes, get paid internships, and real-life experiences. This opportunity will prepare them for future careers.
"There is this bridge that this program seeks to connect," Dr. Morris said. "The needs of the community, the students, and then the employment opportunities that are available for those that are graduating,"
The institute is not only for students in the high percentile of their class, it's about being inclusive.
"We want to give them connections to something greater and bigger than them and maybe that will spark something that will shift their lives," Dr. Morris said.
A soft launch kicks off this fall, then the program pushes into high gear at the start of 2021.
"The mission is to run hard and run fast and impact the lives of those in this Midwest region," Dr. Morris said.
With over $400,000 in scholarships, high school seniors who join the Civic Leadership Institute will have an opportunity to get their tuition paid to Richland Community College.