A new program designed to support students who are single parents has begun on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University.
WEKU’s Mary Meehan reports that Scholar House is about much more than housing.
The fresh paint on each apartment door is a bright yellow, teal or purple but just outside the wide, grassy courtyard, but the patches of reddish mud along the sidewalks show that construction on the Scholar House and the newest Eastern Kentucky University parking garage is not quite over.
But EKU student, April Akihary is already settling in to her new two-bedroom apartment. As we are talking her three kids – Preston, Kaiden and Christabelle, are playing, toys are scattered everywhere. And, of course, the most favored ones make noise.
“I think my favorite part is that the kitchen, the dining room and the living room is all open so I can watch them while I’m cooking or whatever,” she said.
She also likes the large bathroom, the storage space, already filled with bikes and strollers. But like all mothers of young children. She especially appreciates the laundry room.
“I do about two loads of laundry a day, it’s a lot,” she said with a laugh.
The Scholar House is a project 10 years in the making, said Director Melissa Gross. Located on the former site of Brockton Apartment, near the current fitness center, it also has designated resident parking.
Many partners were involved in making the Scholar House a reality. That includes the Kentucky Housing Corporation (KHC), Kentucky River Foothills Development Council Inc. (KRFDC), the City of Richmond and EKU.
And FAHE, a nonprofit in Berea, has also been involved since the inception.
The Eastern Scholar House is operated by KRFDC. Although located on leased land at EKU and prioritizing student parents, this program is not a form of student housing.
In fact Eastern Scholar House is not operated or owned by the University, and has no connection to the University housing office
Students, who are all single parents, are interviewed before being selected and must maintain a certain GPA to stay in the program. They also must agree to fully participate in the program. EKU’s Scholar House is not limited just to Eastern students and several students from other colleges are among the first residents. For some, it is their first shot at college life. For others, like Akihary, it is a second try.
Akihary is 23. She has attended EKU before, she enrolled after excelling in high school. She hoped to study forensic science. By during her first semester, she discovered she was pregnant. Still, she tried to stay in school.
“I just wanted to finish it out, but that didn’t happen but I wanted to get an education so I could support my kids, I knew that I could. And wouldn’t have to bounce from job to job, fast food and factories.”
One of her biggest challenges was transportation. Even though she lived in Richmond.
“My mom was my only means of transportation and she was helping out my aunt and my brother get back and forth to work and to school. So that didn’t work out because of that,”
But Akihary heard about the Scholar House earlier this year. She was one of the first to put in an application. She said wanted to give her children stability and show them how important education can be. Gross said the focus of has always been on helping student/parents become self-sufficient.
“It’s the balance of trying to be a parent and working some and just doing the day to day,” said Gross. The stress of school on top of parenting can prove daunting.
To help with that balance there Scholar House has a day care facility, study rooms with computers on the property so parents can study.
There are also mandatory one-on-one monthly meetings between mothers and staff to troubleshoot any issues.
And the parents are encouraged to support each other. Akihary, who is already trying to organize a parent’s get-together, said she is really looking forward to being able to have other mothers nearby who know exactly what she is going through.
After all, the unexpected always happens with kids.
Gross said she sees it all the time. The mothers think “I’ve got to go to class and it’s all figured out and you wake up the next morning and you daughter has a temperature of 102 and what to you do? They are great problem solvers, they are going to figure it out. I know they will be successful.”
Every parent needs extra help sometimes.
In addition to having on-site parental back-up, the Scholar House staff are available to help mothers with resources like tutoring. They also connect them with non-profitgroups who can help with day to day needs like food assistance or furniture.
And Gross says if the parents are successful, their children will be successful as well.
“We believe that Scholar House is the way to reach two generations and help them to self sufficiency. That’s the ultimate goal for everybody.”
As Gross says goodbye to Akihary, a member of that next generation, her daughter ChristaBell, breaks her silence for the first time.
It’s a faint, Cindy Lou Who kind of “bye.”
For Gross, getting to be around the kids like ChristaBell, is one of the perks of her job.
My favorite part of this has literally been the noise of the kids, I love that, they are always laughing and having a good time. I can’t wait until that lawn is filled with someone kicking a soccer ball from one end to the other.”
Scholar House, which serves both EKU students and students from colleges nearby, has a total of 38 apartments. Most have been filled but Gross says there are a few spots available.