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D.C. Foster Children Get a Boost

New Scholarship Aims to Help Teens Who Had Tough Beginnings

By Theola S. Labbe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 7, 2004; Page B01

Tyrone Reid, 17, a senior at Wilson Senior High School, already has his plans for next year. He wants to attend the University of Miami in Florida and play football.

Tiara Howard, 18, plans to enroll at the University of the District of Columbia and study nursing. "I need my own place," said Howard, who is eight months pregnant. "I'm ready."

Actor Bruce Willis gives Ebony Murray, 15, a helping hand as she mounts the stage for a group photo with the advocate for foster children. (Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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The two teenagers have been in foster care in the District for years. And now, as they enter adulthood and plan for college, they could be eligible for Fostering a Future, a scholarship announced yesterday by Capital One Financial Corp.

Reid and Howard sat rapt in the gym bleachers at the Kennedy Recreation Center in Northwest Washington with about 40 District teenage foster children as Richard D. Fairbank, the company's chairman and chief financial officer, explained the scholarship.

The McLean-based credit card and financial services company will give $450,000 to two national foster care organizations that will administer the scholarship. Capital One, the Children's Action Network and the National Foster Care Fund, founded by actor Bruce Willis, will set application criteria and select recipients. The scholarship amounts and duration will be announced in several weeks, organizers said.

Several national nonprofit organizations help older foster children as they enter adulthood, and the federal government gave states $185 million last year for education and work programs for older foster children.

Raymond Torres, executive director of Casey Families Services, the division of the Annie E. Casey Foundation that works directly with 500 foster children, said his group and others are always looking for more private donors.

"Having a national private organization like Capital One make such a commitment is relatively rare," Torres said.

Fairbank said yesterday that Capital One will set aside 20 percent of the scholarship funds -- about $90,000 -- for Washington area foster children.

Fairbank introduced Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) as an example of a foster child in full bloom as an adult. Williams was abandoned shortly after his birth in Los Angeles and placed in foster care. He did not speak until he was 3, and he was later adopted by Lewis and Virginia Williams.

Williams, who was elected Saturday to lead the National League of Cities, said the day was emotional for him, given his early difficulties.

"The government, my parents and the church all came together to have created me being there," Williams said. Scholarships, he said, "give our foster kids a hand."

About 500,000 children are in foster care in the United States, and they do not get nearly enough attention, Willis said yesterday. "If there were 500,000 kids adrift on a huge raft, the entire world would mobilize," the actor said.

After the speeches, Reid clapped and said from his seat in the bleachers that he liked what the actor had to say.

"Most stars are not into this kind of stuff," Reid said.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company