Headline: Reaching Their Potential
Subtitle: Legacy Children’s Foundation supports at-risk students
Writer: Courtney Larson, FM Area Foundation
Nonprofit: Legacy Children’s Foundation

“It’s so great to be able to check that box Ms. Dehne I graduated. Nobody thought I would do it,” said a Legacy student who recently graduated high school.

‘Ms. Dehne’ is Mary Jean Dehne and she and her husband, Jeff, started Legacy Children’s Foundation a nonprofit that supports at-risk students to improve high school graduation rates. “We are both educators and we want to pass on the values and opportunities that we had as children,” Dehne said. “We are trying to recreate the legacy of our parents through this nonprofit as an outreach to young people who might not have the same opportunities we did.”

Students are referred to the program by current Legacy students, parents, school personnel and community members, and have to meet three of the four criteria to qualify for the Legacy Children’s Foundation or two of the four with a professional referral. The criteria are to have a GPA of 2.0 or lower, be within a specific family income, a 50 percent or lower on the MAP reading or Math test, and a personal situation that is preventing a student from achieving their fullest potential.

Legacy Children’s Foundation was started at the Dehne’s kitchen table with a group of students Mary Jean was teaching in 2010. Students helped develop the program and continue to make up part of the Board of Directors.

“We believe the children are the owners of what’s going on here, because they helped develop it,” Dehne said.

The program is a simple reward system. Students involved in Legacy have seven expectations they need to meet every day in order to earn a reward, such as money or a trip. Junior high school students can earn $5 a day and high school students $10. At the end of two weeks if the students have met all the expectations they get paid. Half of the check goes to them and the other half into a savings account, which they receive only upon completion of a high school diploma.

The expectations are: 1. Pass all your classes. 2. Have a minimum GPA of 2.0. 3. Have a clean attendance record at school with no detention. 4. Be active in an after school activity or have a part-time job. 5. Be clean on a random drug test. 6. Complete a minimum of one hour of service work per week. 7. Attend the weekly Legacy meeting.

“We think our standards are set pretty high. A lot of our graduates say to keep the standards high, because that’s what’s going to help kids be successful,” Dehne said.

If the students receive 80 percent or more of their paychecks throughout the school year they get to travel in the summer to places like New York City, Boston, Minneapolis, Washington D.C., St. Louis, National Parks and Duluth. “We’re trying to create for them an opportunity to see and explore the world because we know through research those experiences will directly improve their reading comprehension, vocabulary, problem solving skills and all kinds of avenues to further flourish in today’s world,” Dehne said. “Significant basic skill improvement is accomplished through intense personal work at the Sylvan Learning Center after school and during the summer months.”

Dehne is grateful for the support of community members who use their resources, both time and money, to make a difference in the lives of children in this area.

She summarized the mission of the program by saying, “We are trying to impact the mindset of young people who often feel hopeless and without value. We want to empower them to understand they have tremendous value and worth if they take advantage of opportunities to become educated young leaders. What we hope to create is a level playing field for young people who otherwise wouldn’t have those opportunities to get a step up on life.”

The Legacy Children’s Foundation recently set up an endowment fund through the FM Area Foundation. Gifts to this fund not only support the work of the Legacy Children’s Foundation forever, but they also can qualify for the ND Charitable Income Tax Credit, providing the donor with a 40% tax credit.