Everybody agrees it’s not about the money, but in truth the money is important.
Most single parents who want to improve not just their own lives, but the lives of their families through education need some help. They lots of help, but being able to pay tuition is the vital first step.
So let’s start there.
The Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund is there to help. The River Valley region covers Sebastian, Crawford, Franklin, Logan, Scott, and Johnson counties. Students, who all participate in interviews with volunteer evaluators, can receive $900 per semester if they attend full-time and $450 if they attend half-time.
The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is also there to help. SPSF students who attend UAFS and maintain a 2.5 grade point average will get an additional 25 percent from the UAFS Foundation. Once students receive the scholarship, they can reapply every semester.
“Once you’re in, you’re in,” said Abbie Taylor Cox, development manager. “You get first access to resources; you get first pick. We wrap around you all the way through. Just keep your grades up.”
That brings us to the really important stuff: the way SFPS wraps around students and loves them through the program.
“To me, it’s about the relationships,” said Sandra Nelson, program manager. She’s in charge of “all things student,” Cox said.
“We interview all the students every year in the fall,” Nelson said. “They come in looking like they’ve lost their best friend; they have little or no self-confidence. Within that year, there is such a change. They start gaining confidence in their abilities. Whatever in their past stole their pride, we give it back.”
Single parents working for degrees often have to overcome psychological or emotional barriers as well as economic ones.
“A lot of the single parents have been told they are less,” Nelson said. “They’ve been told repeatedly that they are too dumb or too old or it’s just too hard. It’s hard, all right, but not too hard. They need to want it, but if they are willing to work, we’re willing to help them.”
Thomas Howard, a 32-year-old UAFS student with a 4-year-old daughter, agrees they are willing to help.
“They are there to support me,” he said. “The most important part of the scholarship is having that support and knowing I could call Abbie at any time for any reason. She would help me get through anything.”
Carrie Terry, a 35-year-old mother of four also attending UAFS, said the scholarship money helped her buy a laptop and pay tuition for her summer courses. But she also said she talks to Nelson “at least a couple of times every week.”
She also said she has lots of other help, from her sister, her children’s father, and a supportive fiancé.
Sometimes You Need a Do-over
Carrie Terry spends her days working as a community impact coordinator at the United Way of Fort Smith Area. Then she goes home to take care of her four children, 8, 10, 11, and 15. Each comes with the full complement of kid things: sports, dance, band, homework, and social life. After they go to bed, Terry has time to rest and take care of herself. She does that by catching up on her homework as she completes a degree at UAFS. That’s not the only time she does homework; she also does it on weekends and during ballgames.
With understatement, she said, “It takes a lot of time management.”
This is Terry’s second swing at getting a degree. She started right out of high school and continued even after she got pregnant. She soon realized she didn’t have enough time with her daughter when she was working fulltime and going to school. So she dropped out of college.
But her grandmother always told her she needed a degree, and with the encouragement of her boss Eddie Lee Herndon, president of Fort Smith’s United Way, and the support of Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund, she’s making good on that promise. She already has completed an associate degree and is working on a bachelor’s degree.
She grew emotional recently when asked what she might want to tell donors who support the scholarship fund.
“I would say it’s important to believe in us,” she said as her eyes filled. “It’s important that you can see the potential in someone we can’t even see in ourselves.”
Even with the false starts, Terry is proud of the life she is modeling for her children.
“’Never give up,’ I tell them. “‘Even though bumps happen, you can still follow through.’”
“There’s no way I could do it on my own,” she said. “My daughter even helps me with my homework.”
Nelson said she typically talks to students at least once a month, sometimes more often.
“I know what resources are available at the different campuses so that I can direct students to tutoring. With UAFS students, I make sure they get connected with services for nontraditional students. We are fortunate to have (UAFS Dean of Students) Dave Stevens on our board.”
This semester 31 students at UAFS received the Single Parent Scholarship. Those who keep their GPAs at 2.5 or above will get the match, which Nelson said sometimes comes as a nice surprise.
Nelson talks about an SPSF student success. “She wanted a BSN (bachelor of science in nursing): single parent, food stamps, HUD (housing assistance) the whole nine yards. Now she works in a big hospital and just broke ground on a new home. Stories like that make the difference.”
“It’s not just what this program does for the students; it’s what it does for the whole community. It has a multi-generational effect. Their children say, ‘We always have food now. We always have a lunch to take.’ We help them in their job search, and that makes them more likely to stay here.
“These single parents are healthier, and their children are healthier.
“It changes everything.”
I Want to Make My Daughter Proud
Thomas Howard loves spending time with his 4 (almost 5)-year-old daughter Analeigh doing things like eating pizza and ice cream. They also have been to the River Valley Nature Center, and as a special treat, they went to Destin, Fla., this summer.
He also works at Gadget Grave, and he’s finishing a degree in marketing. It’s a haul.
“I couldn’t do it without my parents,” Howard said. “It’s like my mom is her mom.”
At Gadget Grave he covers a territory that takes him from Northwest Arkansas to Poteau to Booneville. But when he’s in the store, he fills a very special niche.
“I’m the guy who can talk to the everyday customer in a way they can understand,” he said, knowing exactly how valuable that skill is.
Going to school with the help of the Single Parent Scholarship gives Howard a special pride.
“The scholarship recognizes the hard work by other single parents and me, facing the obstacles of trying to work and go back to school and still care for your child. I want to be the kind of father (Analeigh) will be proud of.”