Independent Living Program helps college student from L.A.
|Jerome Thomas, left, a first year Lassen College student from Los Angeles, stands with Cecil McLinn, principal of Duke Ellington High School from which Thomas graduated. Photo by Jordan Clary|
April 17, 2013 — A well-known proverb says we learn who our friends really are when hard times hit. And when the ones who count rally around you, support you and encourage you through those difficulties, you know you are truly blessed. That’s something Jerome Thomas has learned during the past year at Lassen College.
Thomas came to Susanville from Los Angeles, a move he said initially felt like “coming to another planet,” but to which he is adjusting, snowboarding at Coppervale on weekends, pulling all As and Bs on his last progress report and attending Susanville’s Community Church.
But it’s been a journey getting here.
During his last year at Duke Ellington High School in Los Angeles, Thomas and his counselor reached out to the Lassen Community College Kinship Education Program Director and Independent Living Program Coordinator Denise Stevenson who helped him transition to the area.
The purpose of the Independent Living Program is “to work to remove barriers that stand in the way of foster youth reaching their full potential. This might include assistance with housing, finding employment or assisting with entry into college programs,” said Stevenson.
When he arrived, Stevenson picked him up at the bus stop and helped him settle into the college.
However, shortly thereafter, Thomas made some poor decisions, which led to disciplinary actions on the part of the college and feelings of isolation for Thomas, said Stevenson, who also mentioned she believed he was experiencing homesickness and something akin to culture shock.
Faced with the possibility of suspension from the college, the support began to pour in. Teachers, counselors and family wrote letters.
Cecil McLinn, Thomas’ high school principal from Duke Ellington High paid a visit to the college last week, and mentioned the incident from last fall.
“Talk about a family coming together,” he said.
McLinn said he was pleased to have “a pipeline of communication” between Los Angeles and Susanville, and based on Thomas’ success here, hopes to send other students this way.
“I plan to take a lot of pictures,” he said, “because a lot of students are on pins and needles.”
He said five other seniors —three young men and two young women — are currently interested in Lassen College.
McLinn said, “They’re all good students, all finishing up their classes. And they’re excited.”
He said they have been working with the same counselor who helped Thomas.
“Natalie (the counselor) has done a good job of telling them this is not Los Angeles,” McLinn said. “This is not a big city, and when you come up here, it is totally different. Totally different. I’m encouraging the students who can, and want to, to come up here. Not all of them can. Some don’t want to leave their neighborhoods or have elderly parents or grandparents to care for.”
Thomas’ very willingness to take an unknown leap and pursue a college education in a new place is a mark of character according to his supporters. People like him and want to see him succeed.
Stevenson said Thomas’ extended family now covers most of California, from Los Angeles to Lassen County.
One of Thomas local supporters is college president Dr. Marlon Hall.
In an email correspondence Hall wrote, “Jerome Thomas was a young, unrefined, first-year student from inner-city Los Angeles when I first met him. The reason I met with him was disciplinary … I decided to mentor him. I felt this would help him become integrated into the campus community, and it was a better deal for him at Lassen than returning to Los Angeles. We met weekly. I had him fill out progress reports from his instructors. I had him read sections from a book about Jackie Robinson. I explained the similarities in Jackie's entrance into major league baseball and Jerome being the first from his high school to attend Lassen College. The theme being is that if you are not successful, no others will follow you on this path. He made a huge change. His grades were outstanding last semester. He has a lot of support from Denise Stevenson and his former high school principal, Dr. McLinn.”
McLinn said he nearly wept with relief when Hall said he would mentor Thomas.
“The sigh of relief was like, ‘Oh God, thank you,’ and I ran out of the office and told everybody and they all said, ‘Thank God,’” he said.
Thomas is enrolled in the welding program and said he plans to keep furthering his education until he “can’t take it any more.”
He said, “I plan to spend another four to five years in school. I just have to figure it all out and decide.”
There are still adjustments. When asked what was most different between Los Angeles and Susanville he said, “Not being able to walk up the street and find something to do. There are things to do here, but not like a whole group of people who are your friends who you grew up with. It’s more of an outdoor thing here. We go hiking here. We don’t hike in L.A.”
He’s also turned his experiences to his advantage and an English paper he wrote describing his transition to Lassen County received an A.
For now, Thomas plans to keep his focus on school, with some snowboarding thrown in for recreation.
He said, “On weekdays it’s just school, school. On the weekends it’s snowboarding.”
For information on the Kinship and Independent Living programs, call 251-8810.
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