Students learn to live independently when they go away to college, but they still turn to parents for advice or money or simply a listening ear. Foster kids, however, often struggle on their own.
"The dropout rate for foster kids is very high. Very few go on to graduate. They don't know how to budget. They have no family to support them when saying, 'I can't get along with my roommate' or 'These courses are hard.' They have no mom to ask, 'How do I make this tuna noodle casserole?' " said Bryan Huls, a retired licensed family therapist who has trained foster parents.
Locally, the number of children in foster care has been increasing in recent years due to a rise in substance abuse. Huls wants to ensure they receive the support they need even after they age out of the foster care system."They get to be 18 and the system drops them," said Huls, a Stanley native who returned to his roots in 2011 from the San Diego, Calif., area.He described himself as "tickled pink" about a state Assembly bill that would allow foster children to attend University of Wisconsin schools and state technical colleges for free. On a smaller scale, he has established the Huls Hope Scholarship with the UW-Eau Claire Foundation. "His plan is to award a $1,000 scholarship each year for the next four years until he is continually supporting four students. Each student would receive a total of $4,000 over four years," explained Kimera Way, president of the UW-EC foundation.
The focus of the scholarships is students who have been in the foster care system at some point in their lives and who are members of the LGBT community, with Chippewa Valley residents a priority. The first award will be made for the 2018-19 academic year. Recipients must pursue careers to help others, such as nurses, teachers, and counselors. His goal is to empower individuals to become independent, productive members of society who give back to others as they have received, he said. "Bryan's generosity is remarkable in that he is providing scholarship support for students who often are marginalized. This is the first such scholarship of its type investing in students who definitely need a hand up to ensure their success through college," Way said.
Huls is sensitive to the needs of students identifying with the LGBT community as well as those who've been in foster care. As a therapist, he heard horror stories about gay youngsters kicked out of their homes and disowned by parents. Huls, who is gay, said he was lucky because his parents did not reject him.
"And yet, even with that support, it was a struggle, especially while I was in the Navy and had to remain closeted. I could have been court-martialed and kicked out just for being gay," said Huls, a highly decorated veteran.
Huls also would like to provide funding for food pantries through the endowment, an ongoing focus of past and current personal donations to charity. Along with establishing his endowment, he stays busy building a home near Boyd. He comes from a close-knit family with seven siblings. His grandfather owned Stanley Bottling Works, and his father formerly operated Stanley Distributing Inc. He plans to live with two siblings and a sister-in-law in his new house. Huls has spent a lifetime serving others, including as municipal judge for the city of Stanley in 2015-16. The city council then dissolved the municipal court, a decision under consideration even prior to this election.
He thought about becoming a priest and attended preparatory seminaries in La Crosse and Madison instead of the local high school. Later changing his mind, he enrolled at UW-Eau Claire in 1975, majoring in psychology and minoring in philosophy.
He served 11 years in the Navy and still recalls the anti-war comments and dirty looks he got while wearing his uniform in the wake of the Vietnam War. "I couldn't be an officer as I'm totally deaf in my left ear," he noted.
He worked in a Navy prison computing sentences and tracking prisoners, transitioning to the roles of correctional counselor and parole officer. He earned master's degrees in counseling psychology and clinical psychology. He served on the USS Ranger as director of the Counseling and Assistance Center. The aircraft carrier participated in bombing raids on Iranian oil platforms in the 1980s. After he left the Navy, he worked in the private sector, including at a residential crisis center that served homeless people. He also worked with employee assistance programs (EAP) for Anthem, dealing with issues from childcare to a suicidal individual holding a gun to his head. His final position with Anthem was as a senior consultant, dedicated to major accounts for Anthem EAP. He was a qualified substance abuse professional (SAP) for the Department of Transportation, advising account representatives on DOT concerns and policy as well as triaging individual cases of DOT violations. He retired in 2010 due to health issues. Adam Smit, a certified financial planner in Stanley, directed Huls to the Community Foundation of Chippewa County to accomplish his estate-planning goals through the Huls Endowment Fund.
"I talked to Bryan, and he wanted to leave a legacy and help with scholarships forever, not just one time. We're all mortal, but the structure is there where Bryan's legacy can go on forever," Smit said.
"We are each our own potter, shaping our earthen vessel, whether that vessel is to receive alms, provide for ourselves from our own bounty or to use it to serve others in need. Perhaps my small step with this endowment is to do what I can to assist others from moving from one end of this metaphor to the other," said Huls.
Locally, the number of children in foster care has been increasing in recent years due to a rise in substance abuse. Huls wants to ensure they receive the support they need even after they age out of the foster care system. The Huls Endowment Fund supports scholarships for children who have been in the foster care system.