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University of Missouri

Giving Hope, Family and Future

Mizzou alumna turns negative experience into something positive for Missouri students.

Stephanie Tinsley Regagnon, McKenzie Lockett and Mia Platz

Stephanie Tinsley Regagnon, McKenzie Lockett and Mia Platz are all connected through their MU experiences. Photos by Nicholas Benner.

Stephanie Tinsley Regagnon was 29 when her mother was handed a four-year prison sentence; she was 32 when she gave birth to her daughter, Ava Grace; and within six months of her daughter’s birth, she started a nonprofit to help Missouri children of incarcerated parents go to college. Every time Regagnon would visit her mom in prison, she was overwhelmed by the sadness she felt for the youngsters visiting their mothers. “These kids, if they had dreams of college, they too often had to sacrifice those dreams,” she says. “I want kids who have been through this to know they don’t have to give up their dreams. The experience will impact your life, but it doesn’t define you.” Now in its fifth year, the Ava’s Grace Scholarship Foundation has provided eight students with $3,000 to $5,000 renewable scholarships.

Stephanie Tinsley Regagnon, BA ’99

More than 44,000 children in Missouri have an incarcerated parent, and statistics show those children are seven times more likely to end up in prison themselves. “If we can educate these kids, perhaps they won’t follow in the steps of their parents,” Regagnon says. She isn’t only interested in getting Missouri youth to college; she’s invested in making sure they graduate, too. In addition to financially supporting Ava’s Grace Scholars, Regagnon is creating an extended family for the students. “This has been the most rewarding experience of my life.”

McKenzie Lockett

Lockett was one of the first students to receive an Ava’s Grace Scholarship. “It’s ironic that my mom getting arrested was helpful in a lot of ways,” she says with a hint of dark humor. “It pushes you to succeed because you don’t want to be a part of that life.” Now in the Honors College, Lockett studies post-traumatic stress disorder in Associate Professor Jamie Arndt’s lab and volunteers at the Missouri Crisis Line. “The scholarship is a lot of money, but it’s way more than money. Stephanie created a community of people who are understanding and nonjudgmental. My Mizzou mentor, Mia Platz, is part mother figure, mentor and BFF.”

Mia Platz, BJ ’03, MA ’10

Platz was working in fundraising at Mizzou when she met Regagnon at a St. Louis Agri-Business Club meeting. When Regagnon told Platz about her new nonprofit, Platz gave Regagnon fundraising and grant-writing tips. Platz was excited to be Lockett’s mentor when she came to Mizzou in fall 2012. From moving Lockett into her residence hall to answering questions about financial aid forms, Platz is providing crucial guidance. But Platz says in some ways Lockett mentors her. “For someone her age, she has her life planned. She knows what she wants to do. That’s inspiring to me.”