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Fostering Hope and Student Success

On any given day, well over 400,000 youngsters across the nation are in foster care. And each year, more than 20,000 of them reach the age of 18 and emancipate, or “age out,” of the system.

Then what? Left to fend for themselves, the statistics are grim. National studies have estimated that: Some 25 percent are homeless and/or experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Some 47 percent are unemployed. Only half have health insurance. Some 30 percent are arrested and jailed. By age 26, only 80 percent have earned at least a high school degree or GED and just four percent have earned a four-year college degree.

Without family, emotional and financial support, and skills to make it on their own, the prospects for success are indeed grim for emancipated foster youth.

That’s where Cleveland State University, and insightful donors, are making a world of difference and offering hope.

CSU has earned national recognition for its pioneering efforts to improve educational opportunity for foster care youth through its highly successful Sullivan-Deckard Scholars Opportunity program.

Started in 2015 with a $2.3 million gift from local philanthropists Frank and Barbara Sullivan and Jenniffer and Daryl Deckard (foster parents themselves), the program is one of the first of its kind to provide a holistic system of support to assist foster youth in transitioning out of the system and into an institution of higher learning with the goal of completing their degree. Recently, the program received an additional $1 million gift from the Sullivans.

Both couples saw a critical need and were determined to help.

“I have met many bright and hardworking young people within the foster care system who dream of earning a college education and building a better future,” says Barbara Sullivan. “Our intent is to help provide a pathway to success.”

Jenniffer Deckard adds, “Having opened our hearts and our home as foster parents, our family recognizes this great need in our community. We are eager to enhance for foster care youth the opportunities that come as a result of college completion.”

Frank and Barbara Sullivan, Charleyse Pratt and son Jarrett,
President Ronald M. Berkman, Jenniffer Deckard, State Senator John Eklund

The Sullivan-Deckard program identifies students while still in high school and provides support through the college application process. Once admitted and enrolled, students receive scholarships for tuition and books, free year-round housing and meals, work-study employment, academic support including tutoring, coaching and advising, professional mentoring and peer support.

The recent $1 million gift will create The Pratt Center – Fostering Success and Leadership, a home for the program which will provide greatly expanded academic support services and personal and professional development activities for the more than 70 CSU students who have exited foster care.

“This generous gift by the Sullivans will greatly expand our ability to give foster youth the tools to succeed,” notes President Ronald M. Berkman. “We are building something few universities have done – a system and structure to give these students, who face tremendous challenges, the best chance for success.”

Barbara Sullivan serves on the board of directors for Fill This House, an organization that provides household goods to newly emancipated young adults. Frank Sullivan is chairman and chief executive officer of RPM International, Inc., a Medina-based holdings company for manufacturers of industrial and consumer building materials.

Jenniffer Deckard is president and chief executive officer of Chesterland, Ohio-based Fairmount Santrol, which provides materials used in oil and gas exploration. Daryl Deckard is general manager of Black Lab, LLC, a Fairmount subsidiary that manufactures custom-blended industrial and commercial products.

The Pratt Center is named in honor of the late Charleyse S. Pratt, assistant vice president for inclusion and multicultural engagement and founding director of the Sullivan-Deckard Scholars Opportunity program. Dr. Pratt passed away in March following a lengthy illness.

“Thanks to Charley Pratt, students who age out of foster care will always have a welcoming home at CSU,” said President Berkman.

At the center’s ribbon-cutting ceremony just three weeks before her death, a tearful Dr. Pratt said her lifelong ambition was to create access for others. “When I look at our Sullivan-Deckard Scholars, I see promise, greatness and dreams coming true,” she said.


“The Pratt Center is helping make my dreams come true through workshops, networking, study tables, lunch and learns, volunteering and so much more.”

Dejamiah Brown
Business major

“The Sullivan and Deckard families believed in me and my fellow scholars without even knowing us. I thank them for their support and investment in our lives.”

Antonio Levert
Health Sciences/Pre-med major

“My last foster mother helped prepare me for college and adult life, which allowed me to enter the Sullivan-Deckard program with a work ethic. This program has helped me achieve my dreams, discover my personal identity and become a successful adult. The new Pratt Center will continue to assist me in achieving my goals.”

Makayla Lang
Psychology major


The Plain Dealer gave a Cheer of the Day to Frank and Barbara Sullivan for their $1 million gift to create the Pratt Center. The PD noted that CSU “is at the forefront of creating resources that encourage more former foster care youth to attend college. That deserves national attention.”

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