The Next Step Scholarship: A Second Chance for Recovering Addicts in St. Louis
The college experience is often associated with partying, images of students in fraternities or sororities, or large groups gathering for a night of drinking and fun. For most students, this period is simply a time to find their independence, but for some, the parties don’t stop when everyone else goes home. For addicts, drinking and drugging become part of their daily routine, leaving less time to focus on school. This seemingly inescapable cycle of addiction prevents them from being functional members of society. Sometimes an addict seeks help and stays clean, but oftentimes, even in recovery, they are followed by the wreckage of their past. The mess that is left is an obstacle that keeps them from bettering themselves and reaching their fullest potential.
Jamie K. first enrolled in college courses over the fall semester of 1997. She was a high school graduate, as well as a new mother, but despite these additional responsibilities, she began attending classes at the local community college in Belleville, IL. She did well for the first few semesters. Jamie’s story is not unlike many addicts. Her substance abuse interfered with her studies until she was struggling to achieve the minimum in order to remain in school. She also began to use up much of her financial aid and student loans, both of which have limits. “I was young,” Jamie explains, “and no one really sat me down and told me that if you take all of this money and keep it, at some point you’ll run out. It was sort of this, unthought-of concept.” Years later, once Jamie found her way to the 12-step group of Narcotics Anonymous, she did return to school, this time enrolling at UMSL. Jamie was able to attend college for a short time, utilizing the Pell Grant, before that also ran out, leaving her unsure of how she was going to fund the remainder of her degree.
In 2005, a group of friends in recovery recognized this same issue when a member of their group was struggling financially to complete school. They came together, each of them contributing what they could, to help this woman carry the financial weight of earning a degree. With their support, she not only graduated from the university, but earned a 4.0 GPA in the process. Seeing the impact that financial relief could have on a person’s education led to the development of The Next Scholarship. The group of friends realized that this wasn’t an isolated incident - there was a need for financial support for all recovering addicts and alcoholics in the St. Louis area. Many addicts face the same problem that Jamie did, and financial aid can also be affected if the recovering addict acquired charges during their active addiction. The Next Step believes that education “is one of the best ways to rise above addiction,” so their mission became making it easier for people in recovery to get an education.
After losing the Pell Grant, Jamie was faced with the decision of finding scholarships, paying out of pocket (which would have taken years, enrolling in one class at a time), or she was going to have to drop out of school. “The fact that The Next Step was there,” Jamie says, “is probably the only reason I was able to finish my degree.” Although she faced difficulties, in both her education and recovery, Jamie went on to complete her bachelor’s in Anthropology this past fall. During her time at UMSL, Jamie has contributed in numerous ways. For a time she was employed by the sustainability office, working with the landscaping crew, and also volunteered during the construction of South Campus’s community garden. She was an active member of the ASA (Association of Student Anthropologists) at UMSL, and more recently worked as student administration with the Anthropology department. Along with her service work at UMSL, Jamie, like all recipients of The Next Step, has volunteered at many of the scholarship’s fundraising events.
As a non-profit organization, The Next Step exists because of the people who work behind the scenes, raising money and helping recovering addicts to achieve their dreams. Darcy Glidwell, president of the Board of Directors, has been with The Next Step since 2014. Darcy says that “nothing compares to the work we do with The Next Step,” as she has served on other boards in the past. In this volunteer role with the scholarship, Darcy is in charge of all major oversight of the organization, which includes administration operations, fundraising, scholarship policies, and community awareness, but the most rewarding part of her position, she explains, “is hearing the success stories of our students. Many go on to do some amazing things, both in their recovery and with their education.”
The Next Step scholarship is run mostly through volunteer work, but Sherry Leblanc, the organization’s only employee, manages the operations of the scholarship, fundraising and event planning, marketing and public relations, as well as volunteer management. Sherry has been with The Next Step for the last four years and describes her position as her dream job. “I have long been an advocate of the recovery community and higher education,” Sherry says, “and combining those two passions into a nonprofit position where I can help others is very fulfilling.”
In Jamie’s last year at UMSL, she was asked by a few of the board members of The Next Step to attend an interview to be used as advertising for the scholarship. When she arrived, Jamie was surprised with the news that she had been selected as that year’s recipient of the new Barbara Murphy Scholarship, founded in 2019, as a means to provide additional financial support to single parents in recovery. “It truly humbles me how much students in recovery are juggling and how hard they work to reach their dreams,” Sherry says of The Next Step recipients, which is even more true for parents in recovery. This second scholarship was started by Jim and Nancy Murphy, in honor of Jim’s mother Barbara, who had also been a single mother, balancing her education and responsibilities as a parent. Where The Next Step Scholarship is strictly for tuition and other school related costs such as books, The Barbara Murphy Scholarship is intended for school, as well as other living costs, alleviating financial stress that is placed on single parents. Jamie is a single mother of four children, and says of receiving The Barbara Murphy Scholarship, “I was completely shocked.” With the confidence she gained from all her achievements throughout her education, as well as the support she received from The Next Step, Jamie is considering moving abroad and continuing her studies in a master’s program.
Anyone can donate money, or volunteer to help with The Next Step organization’s various fundraising events, but in order to receive the scholarship, the applicant must be active in a 12-step recovery program. Like most scholarships, The Next Step also requires the applicant to show they are enrolled, or currently enrolling in school, and there are certain financial specifications, which are all listed on their website. One of the unique aspects of The Next Step Scholarship, which makes it a valuable contributor to our community, is that they strictly service the St. Louis Area. Applicants must live within 50 miles of downtown St. Louis. Other than the conditions of participating in a 12-step program and demonstrating financial need, The Next Step encourages students of all backgrounds, ages, and educational interests, to apply.
The Next Step Scholarship is a second chance for people in recovery. “Life throws stuff at us,” Jamie says, “and sometimes we don’t come out of that looking so pretty, but that doesn’t mean our situation should ruin the rest of our lives, or that we shouldn’t get another chance to be successful.”
If you are interested in donating, volunteering, or applying for The Next Step Scholarship, you can visit their website here: www.thenextstepstl.org