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Pastor gives students a step forward

June 03, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Caroline Schultz, left, at her college graduation with the Rev. Torben G. Aarsand, her former pastor and founder of A Step 2 Success, a program that helped her achieve her dream of attending college.
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Even as a 4-year-old, Caroline Schultz was taught the importance of higher education. Now 22, Schultz still remembers her mother telling her that a college degree unlocked opportunities that otherwise might not be available.

It was a lesson she never forgot. But as she and her brother each made their way through their high school years, the question wasn't whether they wanted to advance their education.

"College always had been a goal," the former Washington County resident said. It was whether they could afford it.

As the cost of education continued to soar, Schultz said she began to wonder if she would realize her dream. Plus, she said, there were a lot of family challenges. Her mother died from a brain aneurysm when she was 12 years old and her father lost his job and, eventually, the family home. Schultz said they moved in with her aunt; five people living in a two-bedroom house.

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Life sometimes was a struggle, she admitted. But she continued to stay focused on a college education.

In May, Schultz graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Goucher College in Towson, Md. Her brother graduated from Towson University several years ago.

Their degrees became a reality, thanks to A Step 2 Success, a Maryland-based public charity.

"We probably would have been able to go to college," she said, "but we would have had huge student loans. I have a friend who went to school totally on student loans, and now has $1,000 a month loan payments. I would never have been able to afford that."

The foundation's executive director is the Rev. Torben G. Aarsand, who was the Schultzes' former pastor at Haven Lutheran Church in Hagerstown.

A Step 2 Success was founded about seven years ago, Aarsand said, and is dedicated to helping adolescents committed to improving themselves through education and skill development and helping organizations that assist young men and women achieve individualized self-improvement.

"Our focus is on helping young people who are without the resources to attain a skill or education," he added.

Aarsand said his brother, a successful entrepreneur, died in 2002. Prior to his death he told the family around the Christmas table that they should become more philanthropic.

"After his death, in 2004 I left my parish ministry at Haven Lutheran Church, in order to honor my late brother's wishes," Aarsand said.

"The Aarsand Family Foundation, aka A Step 2 Success, was founded after I interviewed all of our family members, friends and colleagues. It was clear to me that we needed to help young people, who needed support and guidance."

"Our goal is to help young people grow into successful adults," he said. "They must be either first generation college students or young people who have some other issues which they are trying to overcome, like Caroline," he said.

Schultz said her brother attended Hagerstown Community College for two years, then Towson and had received a scholarship through the foundation. So when it came time for her to consider college, she, too, turned to A Step 2 Success.

Aarsand said Schultz was able to attend Goucher with a grant totaling $22,000.

Schultz is planning on continuing her education and hopes to become a pediatric nurse.

"I always wanted to work in the health field," she said. "I volunteered at a hospital, talked to people, read up on pediatric nursing and decided this was what I wanted to do," she said.

"I want to help other people."

She currently is working in a research job at a military base in Aberdeen, Md.

Aarsand said Step 2 Success has supported more than 40 young people in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania and is supporting several other local young men and women who are hoping to achieve their educational goals.

A Step 2 Success depends on public support, Aarsand said, with the promise that 100 percent of donations will be used to support individual grantees.

A graduate of Smithsburg High School, Schultz currently resides in Timonium, Md.

Find out more ... More information about A Step 2 Success is available at www.astep2success.org.

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