A few words from a participant

FSH Campus Coordinators have been working with Our Stories Matter to “interview” some of our participants, and last week, Mechelle offered up her answers to some interview questions. We hope you enjoy learning a little bit more about Mechelle, a resident of FSH, senior at UofL and mother to Leon (age 5).

1. Why did you choose your major?

I chose my major as Criminal Justice because I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer. I think it will be awesome to have the opportunity to advocate for at-risk youth in our community. I, also have a passion for debating!

2. What do you most enjoy about leading the Pre-Law Society at Family Scholar House?

As a pre-law society member, I enjoy sharing my interest with others. I was so surprised to find out how many others share the same interest as me. Being in the pre-law society gives us the opportunity to come together. At our meetings we are able to express concerns and talk with community members about the road to and through law school.

3. Where do you see yourself in five years?

I see myself finished with law school, married, self-sufficient, pursuing my career and making a positive difference in the community.

4. What advice would you give a single parent wanting to pursue a degree?

It takes determination along with having patience. Without having that drive to succeed, you will fail. Having patience is a must. Trust me, so many times you will feel overwhelmed with life and everything that comes with it. Keeping a head strong mentality will get through it.

5. What would you like supporters of Family Scholar House to know?

I would like for those to know that you are supporting a great cause. You may not know us personally, but your faith is what keeps us (single parents) going. Some people do not have the support of family, so your daily motivation and year round volunteering helps us a lot.

6. What is the biggest dream you have for your son?

I want my son to be happy. I will never live through him but instead let him understand what he wants to do in life and be his biggest supporter. I’m pretty sure the way he looks up to me, I won’t have to worry about his dreams because they will be bigger than mine. As long as he has faith that it will become a reality, I will always be there- his mother, as a support.

Giving up is not an option

As I drove to work today, I passed a person standing on the side of the road holding a sign that said “Please help. Need work and food.”

I do not know this young person’s story or what experiences led to standing on a corner hoping for hand-outs. Further, I do not want to make any assumptions about the legitimacy of these needs for work and food.  Many in our community are hungry on a daily basis and rely on the good work of Dare to Care and its member agencies to get sustenance.  I also know that there are folks that wish to work but find themselves unemployed due to a lack of education, training and credentials to fill open positions for 21st century jobs. It is not my place to judge those who beg on the street corners; but, I know that this is the very definition of a hand-out.

A chance encounter like driving by the sign-holder this morning, always lead me back to a sincere appreciation for the motivation and determination of our parent scholars. To a one, the single parents we serve have chosen to work toward their goals and earn the education necessary for the career of their dreams while raising their children to value education, hard work and community.  On many days, our FSH team is praised for putting so much into our work to help disadvantages families break the cycle of poverty.  It is hard to accept praise for our efforts on their behalf when we know how hard they are working to do the right things for themselves, their children and their community. They are the hardest working people that we know.

Imagine being not only the first in your family to go to college but also the first in your family to complete high school.  Imagine handling the college coursework in a technologically-advanced world when the only computers you have ever used were at your school or the library because the home in which you grew up did not have computers, Wi-Fi, or smart phones. Now, imagine doing all of these new and scary things while being responsible for a child who looks to you for everything.  I know it can be overwhelming and I know many people would want to give up. Our student parents do not see giving up as an option.

For the parent scholars and children at Family Scholar House we are their coaches, cheerleaders, water boys, and counselors.  What we do to empower them is important; but, what they are doing to change their opportunities and those of their children is awe-inspiring. This is what a hand up looks like.  We know from our experience and our outcomes that what our participants most want is the chance to be a contributing member of our community and a positive role model for their children.  Each and every day, they are earning the opportunity to rise above their current circumstances. Instead of signs, they long to hold diplomas – theirs and those of their children.

As you bow your head in prayer or take a private moment to reflect on the many blessings in your life, I would ask that you also think of our families. They are too busy to beg and too determined to give up. Their children’s future depends upon the decisions they are making today and that alone keeps them motivated to succeed. As supporters of Family Scholar House, you are part of the extended family that nurtures their dreams and encourages them to persevere.  Margaret Mead was right, “”Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Giving is indeed Stout!

When most of us hear the word ‘Stout’, we think of either someone short and portly or of a rich dark beer.  Yet, there is so much more to the word than that.  Merriam-Webster, the penultimate resource for understanding our language, defines stout to include “bold, brave and enduring.” And, that is exactly what giving is.

On Friday, August 21st, the delish new restaurant at 1604 Bardstown Road, Louisville – STOUT will host a fundraiser for Family Scholar House.  This “Giving is Stout” Day will raise awareness of and support for Family Scholar House’s programs and services to empower low-income single parent families to break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their children.

Family Scholar House serves 2,500 families each year, providing supportive housing, academic advising, counseling and a full array of programs to help disadvantaged parents complete their post-secondary education and enter careers so that they can be self-sufficient.  Additionally, programs for children help our littlest scholars get a good start on education and develop skills they will need throughout their lives.  These programs include Toddler Book Club, Children for Change financial education, Healthy Me! And Mommy & Me Cooking Classes.  It is whole-family, whole-life education that benefits our entire community.

Most of our parent scholars are the first in their families to succeed in college.  Almost half are the first in their families to graduate from high school.  What these parents are doing to giving their children better lives is Stout – bold, brave and enduring.  And, they really need your support.  Better yet, we all benefit when they join the workforce and contribute to the community we all call home.

To support Family Scholar House’s life-changing programs and families working diligently to improve their opportunities, all you need to do is eat a burger, drink a beer and round up your tab.  Simple? Yes!  Meaningful? Absolutely!  Your participation makes a bold and enduring difference for families and our community.  Giving is indeed Stout!


Graduation Celebration 2015

Class of 2015

FSH Graduation Celebration 2015

Last month we recognized 54 Family Scholar House graduates at the Kentucky Science Center. To date, we have celebrated 241 degrees. We could not be more proud of our student-parents and their accomplishments. Our participants are full-time parents and full-time students with dreams and goals of achieving nothing short of greatness.

We were lucky enough to have Chief Academic Officer of JCPS and FSH Trustee, Dewey Hensley share how proud of our graduates he is and also to share his journey of discovering the importance of education.

“Education is not magic, but the opportunities it affords you are magic.” –Dewey Hensley

The FSH Class of 2015, spent the evening celebrating with members of the community that have supported FSH and been an integral part of this success. Our participants all have different backgrounds, circumstances, and struggles, but it’s certain that they all have one thing in common: they have the desire for an education and to better their lives along with their children’s lives.

Thank you for supporting our families and believing in their dreams. Our organization couldn’t succeed without the support and love we receive from our community. Please enjoy a small piece of Jaydee Graham’s speech from the evening:

“Thank you for those in this room that believed in me as well as this program which gave us an opportunity to spread our wings and venture through this journey as a family. Our story does not end here, yet it is just beginning as we start a new chapter of our lives. My desire is to touch the lives of many who have or are wearing the shoes that brought me to such a dark place and to show them that they don’t have to feel comfortable living in pain, yet can feel every bit of life again and come out stronger because of it. George Elliot said it well, “it is never too late to be what you might have been.” Embrace every bit of your journey and leave this chapter of your life with your head held high and your goals ahead of you. You have finished this portion of your race, be proud, be bold and continue to make your mark on this world.” (Jaydee Graham, UofL- Bachelors of Social Work)


Our Mother’s deserve their own day…

With the help of wonderful community volunteers, our youngest scholars created these beautiful masterpieces to give to their mothers for Mother's Day.
With the help of wonderful community volunteers, our youngest scholars created these beautiful masterpieces to give to their mothers for Mother’s Day.

If you’ve browsed the card aisle of any Kroger, Walgreen’s or Target lately, you found a plethora of cards designed to honor the important women in our lives. Mother’s Day was created by Anna Jarvis in 1908, and became an official U.S holiday in 1914. This means people have been celebrating mothers once a year, for nearly 101 years! When we are in grade school, with the assistance of our teachers we spent time making our mothers the perfect handmade gift. As we grow older, those handmade gifts are often replaced with cards and if we’re lucky, spending the day together.

These women are our superheroes, cheerleaders, teachers, mentors, boo-boo fixers, stain removal experts and support systems. At Family Scholar House, our hardworking single-mothers work year round trying to create a better life for not only themselves, but for their children as well. These strong women have overcome obstacles and hardships to become full-time mothers and full-time students who are pursuing a college degree and self-sufficiency for their family.

Around here we love to celebrate our moms. During Mayor’s Give a Day week of service volunteers from the community helped our youngest scholars create masterpieces to give to their mothers on Mother’s Day. Another volunteer group will be coming to campus later this week to assist our participants in building their own special mother’s day casserole. Between juggling the responsibilities of being a single-parent, attending classes, working, cooking dinner, laundry and helping with homework while they complete their own, these meals make it possible for them to relax this Sunday.

One of our kiddos getting messy while creating a special gift for his mother!
One of our kiddos getting messy while creating a special gift for his mother!

A Visual Reminder

At a recent staff retreat, FSH staffers had the opportunity to get a little creative (something practiced often around here!).

A canvas for each staff member –sat ready on tables throughout The Commons at Stoddard Johnston Scholar House. Paint of different colors were at each station. Instructions were given to begin painting, and that was all they were told. The project was for staff members to complete their individual canvas, using any variation of colors.  At the end of the day, the Art Therapist started to work her magic. As the staff stood back, they started to see that all the canvases joined together, to create a bigger picture. It serves as a visual reminder that each staff member, volunteer and participant contribute a unique set of skills. When everyone joins together, they make Family Scholar House truly special. No one can do it alone–and now, the mural hangs on the wall of Louisville Scholar House as a daily reminder of the supportive community that empowers our families to succeed.

Last year alone, 1,351 volunteers walked through the doors of our residential campuses, every single one of them a valuable contributor to the work that happens here. With all of us working together, we are changing lives, families and communities through education. Thank you for being an important piece of our community. 

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We DID make it!

Author: FSH Participant and UofL GRADUATE, Terenca

Terenca's bracelet she made that symbolizes how important it is for her to succeed! Succeed in education and in being a wonderful role model for her daughter, Nailah.
Terenca’s bracelet she made that symbolizes how important it is for her to succeed! Succeed in education and in being a wonderful role model for her daughter, Nailah.

A few years ago in the early morning hours I fled with my child from my abusive marriage from Dallas, TX and came home to Louisville, KY.  Within a split second, the action of escaping my abuser left me homeless, jobless, and mentally defeated.  However, being free did not change the reality that was upon me…I was a single parent in a financial crisis.  I knew the only way to make life better for me and my daughter was to get my degree in a field that would allow me to do what I loved for the rest of my life.  I had to force myself to realize that if I could find the strength to free myself from abuse; I could do anything…we would make it! 

In 2011 I was accepted as a resident at Family Scholar House.  Family Scholar House offered me the opportunity to provide stable housing for us while I worked toward achieving my educational goal.  I seized the opportunity and never looked backed.  While in the program I had the privilege of attending the University of Louisville.  It was very difficult for me going to school full-time while being a single parent.  In addition to the obstacles that come with being a single parent attending school full-time; I also dealt with the challenges that arose due to my depression.  Throughout my time in school I have undergone two major surgeries, however, I have never missed a semester.  There were even times that I had to take my daughter to classes with me.  No matter what happened…giving up was not an option for me!

University of Louisville offers a new major titled Individualized Major; this major required a 2.75 cumulative and a minimum of three areas concentrations.  I enthusiastically chose this major because it allowed me to customize my degree to fit my educational and professional goals.  I proudly graduated with my BA- Individualized Major concentrations American Sign Language Interpreter, Communication, and Business. Soon, I will advocate and provide shelter for Deaf and Hard of Hearing domestic abuse victims.  I have learned so much about myself on this journey and I will tell you this,

“You will feel tired and overwhelmed, but know you will succeed.  Surround yourself with positive and trustworthy people and accept their support to help keep you going.  Make necessary adjustments, laugh as much as possible, cry when you need to and never give up…you will reach you goal.  I know because I did!”

We’re All Better For it…

Guest Blog for Our Stories Matter

By: Julie Richardson

Her face looked very familiar—the warm brown eyes and quick wide smile. The little girl pulling on her arm, asking, “Can we do that one, Mommy?” looked familiar, too, and I have to confess, I stared, for several minutes, trying to figure out where I’d seen this mother/daughter duo before.

I was running a fake tattoo booth at my daughter’s school, rubbing various symbols of Halloween on the arms of elementary-aged boys and girls and their younger siblings. And this mom and daughter, they were in line for a tattoo, and I wanted very much to remember why I knew them.

And then mom caught my eye. And her face broke into an even bigger smile, and she said, “Julie, right?” And at the same time we both exclaimed, “Family Scholar House!” as we exchanged warm hugs and introduced our daughters to each other. And then I called her by name, her and her daughter both, their identities having finally been called up from my memory.

I was privileged to be an employee of FSH for a couple of years, and during that time, this woman and her then-infant daughter were residents. I saw them often. And now—now mom has a college degree and a fabulous job and her daughter is a kindergartener in the same school where my daughter is in second grade.

Less than a week later, a similar experience occurred as I read through the roster of my daughter’s Brownie troop—an address on there, I knew it as an address associated with an FSH community—and I smiled, grateful that one of the little girls bouncing around and giggling (I’ve no idea which one, and don’t need to) was another FSH success story—integrated into the community seamlessly and after what any little girl is after—security, fun, friendship and growth.

The thing about Family Scholar House is that within the walls of its various offices, educational rooms and resident apartments are single-parent scholars, men and women, who have often been labeled, in one way or another, by society. They’ve been judged for having been homeless. For fighting addiction. For being victims of abuse. For not “knowing better” than to get themselves into difficult circumstances.

The truth is that the parents of FSH, and their children, are some of the bravest, most resilient people you’ll ever meet. And that I’ve been able to walk alongside even a few of them, and even for a short time, has been one of the great honors of my life.

You see, they are just like you and me, whatever labels we want to ascribe to them. Like you and me, they want their children to be safe and healthy; they have dreams and goals and aspirations; they have skills and gifts and talents. They want Brownie troops and school carnivals and family vacations. They want long sunny days at the park and family meals. Their dreams, their families, their ways of being—they may not look like yours or mine, but they are no less important, no less worth being part of. And for every FSH scholar/resident who triumphs over what life has handed him or her, our entire community is stronger, better, more complete.

I’m so proud to know that these FSH families are everywhere, all over this city and this state that I call home, doing their thing and living their lives and offering to the world the rich experience they all share for having made the FSH journey in the first place.

 We’re all better for it.

Before we begin 2015 let’s look back…

Keynote Speaker, Dr. Tererai Trent with several FSH student parents at our 17th Annual Luncheon.

In October, we were honored to have Dr. Tererai Trent speak at Family Scholar House’s annual luncheon. In addition to sharing her personal educational journey, she explained her perspective that there are two kinds of hunger – the little hunger for material wants and needs and the big hunger for a meaningful life. While the disadvantaged parent scholars that we serve at Family Scholar House have a hunger for the basic necessities to care for themselves and their children, they also hunger for a meaningful life and are willing to work diligently in pursuit of their goals. Their greatest motivation comes from their love for their children and their desire to see them thrive. And yet, many children in our community are not thriving.

The 2014 Kids Count Data Book compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, quantifies what those of us who work with families see each day. Kentucky is ranked 35th in the well-being of our children. We consistently fall behind the national averages in areas that are predictors of the future for our commonwealth. In Kentucky, 27% of children live in poverty; 35% have parents who lack secure employment; and, 37% are being raised by a single parent. It can be tough to be a child in Kentucky. Family Scholar House recognizes that the economic well-being of our community and nation are dependent upon the ability of our residents – this generation and the next – to have opportunities to be productive in the workforce and to become contributing members of our society.

Family Scholar House is committed to ending poverty and transforming our community by empowering families and youth to succeed in education and achieve life-long self-sufficiency. All of the families we serve have experienced homelessness or unstable housing; all are very low-income; and 95% have experienced domestic violence.  In every instance, the children are depending upon a single parent to provide for them.

Last year, Family Scholar House provided services for 2,261 single-parent families with 3,352 children. We did so with a small but mighty staff and almost 1,300 volunteers. To date, our parent scholars have earned 176 college degrees and have demonstrated their success not only in education and employment, but also in modeling a strong work ethic for their children. Within 90 days of graduating from our program, 70% of graduates are financially independent, no longer needing government subsidies to provide for their children.

 The children at Family Scholar House live in an in-between space – somewhere between the stark realities of a family in poverty and the endless possibilities that come from a good education, viable career and opportunity for homeownership.  On a daily basis, they do without basic needs while their parents work diligently to succeed in their college coursework, develop their workplace skills and provide for their children. What our scholars of all ages most need is a supportive community to encourage them as they seek a meaningful life.

To learn more about our programs and our scholars of all ages or to become a volunteer, please call to us at (502) 813-3086 or visit our website at www.FamilyScholarHouse.org.

Together we are changing lives, families and our Louisville community through education. And, with your help this season, we are spreading holiday happiness to disadvantaged children, providing them with the basic needs of the little hunger and feeding the big hunger for a meaningful life.

College T-Shirt Fridays

FSH Staff with Parkland Scholar House resident Mariah showing off our college shirts!

 You might be wondering how College T-Shirt Fridays started at Family Scholar House.                  Show your spirit! Wear the colors of the school you graduated from! Show your Cardinal Pride!    These are all wonderful reasons to wear a college t-shirt, but our reasoning is a tad different…

 Chief Possibility Officer, Cathe Dykstra allowing a “casual Friday” was just not in the books for FSH staff. You never know what you’re going to get with casual Friday; everyone’s definition of casual is different. So, to make things easier for everyone we chose to participate in College T-Shirt Fridays instead! Now do you want to know what inspired Cathe to allow staff members to wear a different college t-shirt every Friday?

“You mean they have colleges in other places besides Kentucky?”

This quote came from a little boy who happened to be walking into Family Scholar House as Cathe was exiting.  Cathe was wearing a Canisius College sweatshirt and as the little boy passed he asked, “What’s Canisius College.” When Cathe told him this was a private college in Buffalo, New York  he turned into a deer in headlights. He was not aware that there were colleges or universities anywhere other than Kentucky. This incident allowed Cathe to realize how important it is for our youngest scholars to know they can go to any college that they desire. We want them to ask about different colleges and know that there is more out there than just what the wonderful state of Kentucky is offering. It’s important and necessary that the topic of college is being discussed with our children. We want our kiddos to know that there are ways to get into any college, such as applying for scholarships.

We want you to join us for College T-Shirt Fridays and share your pictures to our Facebook page, Twitter newsfeed @FamilyScholars, or Instagram page @FamilyScholarHouse. Help spread awareness of how important it is for our younger generation to be made aware of all the opportunities that surround them!

Participant Mariah’s daughter Brooklyn showing her school of choice!
Participant Wes giving a shout out to Missouri State!