"I know Mr. Balloun is a lawyer and that he's really busy, but I've thought about just calling him up at his work and saying, 'Can I come meet you?'"In 2001 Balloun, a law partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, established a post secondary educational scholarship fund exclusively for any student who has been in the foster-care system in Kansas.
Students qualify whether they were foster children for a few days or their entire lives, Balloun
said, and it doesn't matter if they were eventually adopted by a family or just aged out of the system at 18 years old.
"By and large foster children get lost in the shuffle," Balloun
said."Even if they're adopted, their parents often times have limited means to send them to college.Our rule, and it's the only rule to qualify for the scholarships, is that at some point or at some time you were a foster child."
So how did a 78-year-old lawyer who practices commercial litigation turn into an advocate for dozens of foster children like Jones?
The journey began two decades ago when Balloun
married Sheila Wombles.
already had two grown children from an earlier marriage, and Wombles had no children.
...Balloun and Wombles, who live in Lenexa, Kan., also joined a local foster parents' support group soon after David arrived at their door.
To help the group, Balloun
began doing free legal work for foster parents wanting to adopt foster children.
When friends told him that he
should be accepting the state's standard allotment of about $500 per adoption, he
at first refused.But then he
talked over the idea with his
wife, and they came up with a better idea -- to take that money and put it into a fund to help foster children go to college."Gene talks about what he does with a grain of salt," said Joni Hiatt, president of Kansas Foster and Adoptive Children, the nonprofit foster-parent group that supports the scholarship fund.
...Balloun is the group's vice president of legal affairs.
72: Number of adoptions Gene Balloun
assisted with last year
372: Total adoptions Balloun has finalized since 2001