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Non-Alumna Establishes Scholarship to Help Foster Kids Pay for College


By Hazel Scott/ASU

Delores (“Dee”) A.  Varner, a non-alumna but a dedicated financial supporter of Alabama State University, has established a scholarship for foster care students at ASU who have “lived experience” in foster care.

“Social Work is my ‘calling and purpose’ and I endow the scholarships for youth with ‘lived experience' as a way of continuing to make a difference.  I hope this scholarship will support and improve successful outcomes for these Alabama State University students,” said Varner.

Undergraduate and graduate-level students applying for the endowed Delores A. Varner Scholarship must have at least a 2.5 GPA. This scholarship considers both academic merit and financial need.  Preference will be given to those students with the greatest financial need.

Higher education outcomes for youth in foster care are far worse than for the general population. On average, only 20 percent of college-qualified youth in foster care attend college, compared with 60 percent of their non-foster care peers. Only 4 percent of youth in foster care graduate from college, compared to 24 percent of the general population (Courtney, 2011; Kirk, 2010; Salazar, 2013).

Varner said the inspiration behind the scholarship has to do with her personal story while growing up in rural Miccosukee, Florida, and her life’s journey of improving outcomes for at-risk children and their families.

“I am one of 12 children and my parents divorced when I was 12 years of age,” she said. “But for the grace of God and strong off-the-grid, nontraditional kinship care, my 11 siblings and I would have experienced the foster care system,” Varner pointed out. “My mother, Reatha May Harvey Woody, who established an endowed scholarship in her name, was my greatest inspiration behind this scholarship.”

Though the Florida native is retired, she remains committed to making a difference in the lives of at-risk children and families through the endowment in perpetuity of scholarships for children with “lived experience" in foster care.

“Hopefully, my scholarship will empower these students by removing financial barriers to their educational success, which can lead to successful degree completion rather than an inability to finish the program based on financial hardship,” she said.

To apply for the scholarship, click here: Delores A. Varner Scholarship.

More About Delores A. Varner

Varner, L.M.S.W. and M.A.T.S., retired after 29-plus years from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. There she wore several hats, including Head Start Project Officer for the Head Start Bureau for 13-plus years and as a Children and Families Program Specialist for the Children’s Bureau for 16-plus years. She was assigned to the states of Alabama, Florida, Kentucky and North Carolina for federal oversight of foster care and adoption programs. Varner retired in 2021.

Varner was actively involved in writing, shaping and assisting the states in implementing child welfare policy over the years, including the transformative Families First Prevention Service Act (P.L. 115-123). This policy focuses on supporting families, strengthening communities and ultimately preventing the nation’s over-reliance on foster care.

Varner is also a retired Sergeant First Class with 23.5 years of service to this country in the United States Army Reserves. She was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal by then-President George W. Bush.

She was recently awarded the “Inaugural” Distinguished Alumni of the School of Social Work at Georgia State University.