BOISE -- Going to college is hard enough for students who start immediately after high school. For those who take a break before starting college -- no matter how short or long -- going back to school can seem impossible.

A Treasure Valley program is trying to make that transition a little easier. The TRiO Educational Opportunity Center (EOC) provides guidance and support tailored to fit the needs of these nontraditional students.

Many of the adults involved in the program live below the poverty line, while some have spent time in jail or have disabilities. Others simply believe college is out of their reach.

Debbie Kasten is a participant in the TRiO program. A year ago, college was not on Kasten's mind. However, things suddenly changed for the working single mom.

I got laid off, explained Kasten.

Kasten says she didn't know what to do afterward. She'd worked in customer service since graduating high school and hadn't gone to college. It just didn't feel like an option to me, Kasten said. I'm a single mom -- and you know the financial end of it just didn't seem like I would be able to do that.

A friend started to change Kasten's mind by directing her to the TRiO EOC.

Director Meg Stephenson said Kasten's story is similar to that of many others helped by the program.

What we really try to do also is motivate them and support them, said Stephenson. They just don't believe that they can do this, they never visioned they could go to college.

Stephenson says the EOC helps adults overcome the barriers that are keeping them from continuing their education. She says some need help taking their GED, while others need help applying for financial aid, or filling out college applications.

In Kasten's case, the EOC helped her realize she could afford to go to college. I didn't know that there were grants available to go to school, said Kasten.

More importantly TRiO helped Debbie realize that she could be a student again. Stephenson says that's exactly what the program is designed to accomplish.

They are so excited, said Stephenson. They are scared, which is normal and good, because it is real then -- but they are so excited, and they can't believe that they are a student.

Kasten starts at Treasure Valley Community College in two weeks. She plans to get an associate's degree and then transfer to Boise State University to pursue a degree in psychology.

It is coming true; it is just a dream; it is a dream, said Kasten.

The TRiO EOC program is run by the University of Idaho. Each year, the center helps 1,000 adults continue their education. All of the participants are the first in their families to go onto college. TRiO EOCis also the only educational opportunity center in the state focused on adults.

TRiO is a federally funded program. If you would like more information about the TRiO EOC you can call 208-364-9925.

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