Hope rises from ashes of Kirksville arson

I needed to get over what happened to my family. I needed to turn something negative into a positive.

Those are the words of Kirksville native Stephanie Regagnon. Stephanie is the daughter of former Kirksville Mayor Debbie Masten. On January 1, 2005, a fire destroyed Too Talls Two a popular bar and restaurant in Kirksville which Masten was the owner. In May 2007, she was convicted of setting the establishment on fire and was sent to federal prison. Masten is currently being held in a women TMs facility in Pekin, Ill, and is scheduled to be released in April 2012.

Now after everything their family has gone through it TMs hard to imagine anything good coming out of Masten TMs conviction. But, in March of 2010, Regagnon launched Ava TMs Grace Scholarship Foundation. The goal of the non profit organization is to raise money for scholarships to give to students who have a parent or primary care giver in a state or federal prison.

As I was visiting my mom and met some of these families I realized there are so many kids that had to give up some of their dreams because of what happened to their parent said Regagnon. They were normally put in that situation through no fault of their own. But yet they were having to sacrifice their dreams, especially if they had dreams of higher education.

The one of a kind scholarship is starting to gain more and more support at the state level. They have been overwhelmed by the positive responses people give when they tell them about their foundation. Regagnon says one of the reasons she created the scholarship is because she feels education is a direct correlation to whether or not kids end up in the penal system.

I just saw a real need that this was the next step for these kids to be able to break the cycle and of incarceration. Incarceration is very cyclical. It TMs handed down from generation to generation and there is a lot of data out there supporting the fact that these kids, if they can get an education, then they won TMt follow in the footsteps of their parents.

Now, in order to qualify for the scholarship you must live in Missouri and currently have either a parent or primary care giver incarcerated. And it TMs not just limited to four year universities; students attending community college, technical college and/or going for their associate TMs degree can apply.

As of today Ava TMs Grace has raised $15,000 through the help of private donors. Since they are still considered a newer foundation they hope to partner with larger corporations as well as apply for grants in the near future. Right now they are offering $1,500 scholarships, all of which are renewable each year. While they hope to increase that amount later on, Regagnon says it TMs about something more than just money.

What it TMs really going to be about is getting involved with these kids, getting to know them. There TMs going to be an extensive interview process because we want to provide them with a wraparound service. You know, we don TMt just want to give them $3,000 to $5,000 a year and say you know, go do with it what you will. We TMre going to work with partners to be able to provide them financial counseling and mentoring and all kinds of other services because at the end of the day these kids may not be equipped due to their upbringing with what it takes to commit to a school program. So we want to make sure these kids are successful.

In the end, Regagnon named the foundation after her daughter, Ava. While Ava's Grace Scholarship Foundation is helping to brighten the lives of young adults preparing for higher education, it has also brought Masten closer to her daughter.

She TMs extremely proud for one. She TMs extremely proud that I decided to turn something that could have ruined our family, and did not, into something positive for others because amazingly we don TMt have anywhere near the horror story of the people we TMve met since she TMs been in there Regagnon said.

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