Although initially wary of joining the program, Timothy Skipper, a 2015 graduate of Abbeville High School, has become an ambassador for REACH, the University of Alabama’s resource hub for foster youth, orphans, emancipated minors, wards of the state, and homeless youth.
Skipper grew up in a “poverty-stricken, abusive” home with his older sister and three younger brothers. They were later removed from his parents care by the Department of Human Resources into a kinship guardianship living arrangement with his grandmother. The common alternate custodial agreement qualified him to become a Knabe scholar with the United Methodist Children’s Home in Tuscaloosa.
The UMCH scholarship pays for Skipper’s education, and automatically qualifies him for REACH membership.
Skipper scarcely attended meetings until Shannon Hubbard, the program director, convinced him over time of the benefits of the program.
“My freshman year, I was pretty hesitant on joining the program,” Skipper said. “Shannon Hubbard, the executive director, kept pursuing me and persuading me to join. She’s been kind of like my mother and I’ve become kind of like the go-to brand ambassador.”
The program offers financial and academic support to qualifying students while actively enrolled. According to Hubbard, only 38 UA students are active with REACH. However, nearly 900 other students on campus are eligible to participate, but they either don’t know about the program, or fear being stigmatized if they reveal previous foster care or guardianship status.
Skipper said he understands other students’ reservations to join well, because he initially experienced the same nervous feelings.
“I am a very empathetic person, and I wanted to give a voice for the voiceless. I know there are people out there in need of help but they may be unaware of the resources available being offered to them,” he said. “I just want them to know that there are people that are willing to help.”
Skipper wants people to see that REACH is so much more than just a support group. It provides tutoring, career planning advisement, individual counseling, financial assistance including budgeting, and access with anonymity to a resource pantry with basic hygiene products and school supplies. Leaders in the program can help students plug-in to other resources on campus like other alumni scholarships they might qualify for.
“It’s very helpful knowing that even when you’re on a massive campus in a sea of 38,000 people, that there are people like you,” he said. “It’s kind of become like a familial bond, and that’s what REACH is. REACH gives a sense of community and family in general on this massive campus, where many can’t relate to your personal circumstances.”
Skipper ended up rooming with two other members of the program: Dakota Franklin and Jemarcus Lewis.
“We sort of become like a surrogate family,” Hubbard said. “We hold them accountable for academic performance. We have two family-style sit-down dinners twice monthly – we don’t talk about backgrounds – and talk about normal student activities. There’s a level of understanding and comfort they get from that group that they can’t get from other students, and they can share resources with each other.”
With Skipper’s dual expertise in creative media and with REACH, he recently worked with UA’s admission office to alter the how guardian/parent-related questions to remove potentially offensive or confusing wording. Additionally, he has worked with UA’s student-run Capstone Agency, a communications firm, to create new marketing material for print and social media.
“We worked with them on how to create better branding for the program, create a better social media presence and how to use language that won’t make people feel alienated and like they belong,” he said.
Skipper now speaks at public events, persuading others to take advantage of REACH’s offerings.
“Entering into his senior year, he has been a huge advocate for the program,” Hubbard said. “He does speaking engagements with me and talks about the resources that we have and he is a leader amongst his peers, helping them connecting them to resources and facilitating social interactions. He’s just a huge asset.”
His interaction with the group has helped Skipper to act on his dreams. After graduating in 2020, Skipper aspires to become a filmmaker or writer/director after taking a gap year.
“Anyone who comes into contact with him falls in love with him (Skipper),” Hubbard said. “He’s a prime example of what being a recipient of the REACH program can do for a student and the potential they can reach when they have the resources they need to be successful at school.”