The planned college in Montgomery for children coming out of foster care now has a name — Riverbend Center Supporting Higher Education — and is aiming to open its doors at part of the former West Virginia University Institute of Technology campus in July, officials said at a news conference Thursday.
The conference focused primarily on the school’s unveiled name, logo and the partnership between the nonprofit KVC Health Systems, BridgeValley Community and Technical College and YMCA helping make the plans a reality. Officials say Riverbend will be the first college to target only foster care children.
Riverbend is expected to create 210 jobs in its first 10 years and have an annual economic impact of $22 million once it has a full body of 200 students, according to a promotional video unveiling the name at the event. The college will provide a year-round environment for its students, along with life coaching services and wraparound support, according to the video.
“We are going to build a village around these kids, and that’s our goal,” said Greg Ingram, the mayor of Montgomery. “We’re going to move some mountains again, and as I’ve said many times before, we know how to build schools up here. We’ve done it before, we’ll do it again.”
Following the announcement, Tommy Bailey, KVC Health Systems’ executive vice president of strategic initiatives, said in an interview that Riverbend is aiming to open in early July with roughly 50 students populating its campus.
“We’re having conversations with young people now, holding focus groups, we’ve been doing all these things for a while,” Bailey said. “We believe in the summer that it will be time to bring them onto campus for the first time.”
Eventually, the school should grow to have a full body of 200 students enrolled in Riverbend’s three-year program, Bailey said. KVC officials said previously that they had hoped to bring up to 500 students to the school.
“We’re going to grow slowly over time, given the uniqueness of what we’re doing,” he said. “We want to make sure we get off on the right foot.”
BridgeValley is leading the “education component” of the venture and its faculty will teach Riverbend students, said BridgeValley President Eunice Bellinger.
“There is no better population to focus on that we feel is part of our mission than foster youth that are coming here and being part of the community at the college, and also part of the community of West Virginia as a whole,” Bellinger said.
BridgeValley also has a campus in Montgomery, and Riverbend plans to “fully integrate” with it, Bailey said.
“The faculty will remain BridgeValley faculty, and we will have our own student support staff and people taking care of the physical part of the property,” he said.
Child advocates told the Gazette-Mail last year that a college specifically for those transitioning out of foster care conflicts with research that says those in foster care would likely better off staying in their communities, or getting the help needed to go to an existing two- to four-year college.
Bailey said Riverbend supports young people coming out of the foster care system going to a more traditional college if they have “the ability and desire to.”
“We think that’s the right thing, but obviously what we’re doing isn’t working,” Bailey said of efforts to help children transition out of foster care. “Something as simple as having year-round housing, many colleges don’t traditionally offer those kinds of services. We see [Riverbend] as a way to complement the existing system.”