Graduation Day

Peruse the greeting card aisle of any Kroger, Walgreen’s or Target lately and you’ll find a plethora of cards designed to congratulate, gift and wish well graduates—be they high school, college, graduate school, trade school or otherwise. 

‘Tis that time of year when “Pomp and Circumstance” is often heard, parties and open houses pop up every Saturday and Sunday and steam irons are employed to get out the last bit of wrinkle from graduation gowns.   There are beaming family members and proud friends all over the place.  But you’d be hard-pressed to find any family or friends smiling more widely or bursting with more pride than those who are celebrating the graduation of a Family Scholar House participant.

On Wednesday evening, May 23rd, FSH celebrated the earning of college degrees of 24 of our participants.  That’s right: 24!  And we could not be more excited for these members of our family.  They have overcome unbelievable challenges, fought through incredible struggles, and committed themselves to being the best parents and the best scholars they can be—and watching them walk is enough to make you believe anything is possible. 

We’re also celebrating 7 high school graduations—children of FSH residents who are now headed to college themselves (with the exception of one who has been accepted into the United States Marine Corps).  They, too, are cause for pomp and circumstance, because they’ve watched their single moms and dads become so much worth being proud of, and as a result, are dreaming some awfully big and lovely dreams for their own lives.  Dreams that they’ll make come true with their own hard work, perseverance and determination.

Every graduation is special—but we lift up those who are Family Scholar House graduates as beacons of hope and testaments to courage.  They are witnesses to the strength of community and shining examples of what it means to be part of something bigger than yourself.

We wish them all good things.  Are thankful for being part of their lives.  And know that because of each of them, the world is a better place. 

 

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Poverty Education/Community Connection

In addition to the work Family Scholar House does hands-on with our scholar-parents and their families, there is also the work FSH does in the Louisville community (and beyond) to be a voice for those who have sometimes have no voice.  On behalf of our single moms and dads and their children–our family–we are committed to speaking up when it comes to the devastating effects of poverty, homelessness, and domestic violence.

Community involvement, leadership and education matters to us.  To that end, this summer, Family Scholar House is launching a pilot Serving and Learning Day Camp.  Designed to help middle-school aged youth think about their place in the world and how they can be agents for positive change, the day camp will include a mix of education, play and service.  We’re excited about this new venue for impacting the Louisville community!

Below you’ll find all you need to know if you or someone you know might be interested in the day camp.  Take a look–and pass it on!

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Serving and Learning Day Camp
brought to you by Family Scholar House

June 4-8, 2012, 9am-3pm
Tuition: $75

This coming June, Family Scholar House, a Louisville-based non-profit whose mission is to end the cycle of poverty by providing single-parent students the support they need to earn a four-year college degree, will be piloting its very first day camp for rising 7th and 8th grade youth.

The camp will include service at local mission organizations, poverty and justice education and awareness, and an opportunity to meet with and learn from Family Scholar House residents.

The camp is limited to 12 participants in this inaugural year, and will be led by Julie Richardson Brown, FSH Community Integration Coordinator.  Julie will be assisted by various volunteers and community leaders.

To register, or for more information, please contact Julie: jbrown@familyscholarhouse.org or by phone at 502.584.8090.  Upon registration, a detailed schedule will be provided as well as any necessary paperwork.

 

Report from Give-A-Day Mayor’s Week of Service: Family Scholar House

Sorted donations waiting to be assembled into care packages.

Imagine a room full of boxes of donations: individually wrapped granola bars, trail mix bags, gum, mints, Chapstick, Kleenex, highlighters, hot chocolate, tea bags, Starbucks instant coffee….  The list could go on and on.

Imagine enough of these sorts of donations to stuff to the brim large brown paper lunch bags–the bags having been decorated with messages like, “Good luck on your finals!” “You can do it!” “We believe in you!”

And imagine enough volunteers to organize, sort, stuff, write, decorate and assemble all of this into 167 finals care packages for Family Scholar House residents.

One volunteer said, “When I was in college, getting a care package from home made my day!”

Leadership Louisville volunteers decorating care package bags.

That volunteer, and others like her, through their donating of items and their hands-on putting together of the packages, helped remind FSH residents that someone cares.  That their empowerment and success matters to the wider community.  That they do, in fact, have a village of support surrounding them in their academic pursuits and their journeys as parents.

ID+A staff writing notes of encouragement to go in the care packages.

It is yet another example of the deeply held belief of Family Scholar House that what we do, we do together–and when we live life together, we live life at our best.

Thank you, to all our Give-A-Day Mayor’s Week of Service volunteers–you’ve made a difference in the lives of our scholar parents!

Packages ready for delivery!

It’s all about the relationships!

Thirty men and women from the wider Louisville community have volunteered to enter into mentoring relationships with thirty Family Scholar House residents.  It is not a requirement for the residents, and there is no compensation provided to the mentors.  In other words, it is entirely voluntary on the part of both the mentor and the mentee.  Nobody has to be doing it.

Last week, some of those mentors and mentees gathered for a social of sorts–pizza, conversation and games at our Louisville Scholar House campus in an effort to help everyone to get to know each other.  At first, it was like any room full of folks who don’t know each other–quiet, tentative, no one completely sure what to expect.  But then the pizza arrived.  And the children started playing with one another.  And iced tea and salad were served.  And everyone sat down at long tables to eat together.

And in just a few minutes the room got very noisy.  Conversations erupted all over and laughter ensued.  It was as if everyone had suddenly realized that the person next to him or her might well be their new best friend.

As dinner wound down, the FSH staff member leading the event invited everyone to play a game.  Playing a game is not always easy for adults–especially adults who’ve just met–but there they were, mentors and mentees, engaged in a mini speed-networking session designed to help them connect with as many people in the room as possible, even if just to exchange their name, favorite movie and most-desired place to visit in their lifetime. It went so well, that the staff member had to insist that it come to an end at the appropriate time–and even then, side conversations kept going as people exchanged phone numbers and email addresses and finished up last bits of talking.

Nothing lasting may come of it.  Or something life-changing may come of it (we’re banking on the latter!).  But either way, in the hour of space provided for those mentors and mentees to meet and greet one another, new relationships were formed. And, what we know at FSH is that when new relationships are formed, especially out of a common desire for good, the possibilities for growth and learning and mutual sustaining friendship are endless!

Because for us, it’s all about the relationships–the circles of support and caring that build up the walls of this place and build-up the lives contained within these walls.  These relationships matter.  They are part and parcel of our stories as those who are Family Scholar House–and for every new member of the family (whether staff or volunteer or resident or pre-resident or child or donor) we are truly grateful.

“That was me.”

A successful, driven and respected sales associate for a major print and marketing communications firm, Karen was normally very prepared for first-time meetings with potential clients.  This time, however, she was coming off an especially busy week and found herself not quite ready.

“I’m so sorry,” she began, “but I’m not as familiar as I’d like to be with your work, could you tell me a little more about it?”

And so Cathe Dykstra began to tell Karen about the work of Family Scholar House.  Only she hadn’t gotten very far into the mission of FSH when she noticed Karen’s eyes filling with tears.  She did her best to forge ahead, having no idea what was happening.  Meanwhile, Karen, horrified that she was expressing such raw emotion in a business setting, tried unsuccessfully to reign in all that she was feeling.  And, finally,  Cathe paused to ask the obvious question, “Are you okay?”

Karen, her voice breaking, said only, “That was me.”

“That was me,” she said, and went on to tell Cathe her story.  How she’d found herself unexpectedly pregnant just prior to beginning her freshman year of college.  How the baby’s father hadn’t wanted much to do with it all.  How she was determined to get her degree, to excel, to chase her goals, even though everything was about to change and she had every reason to back away from her commitment to college.  How the baby came a little early and so she missed finals her first semester and had to make them all up after Christmas.  How her family pitched in and helped.  How friends, anonymous strangers, even professors, all, each in their own way, cheered her on when it all seemed so impossible.

Cathe understood.  The meeting was a very successful one. And Karen is now a committed friend to and partner with Family Scholar House.

She’s the original member of the FSH “Spirit Team,” volunteers who focus on FSH families and how community and energy can be built among them.  FSH “finals baskets” are a brainchild of Karen’s, as are Easter Egg Hunts (the eggs being filled with things like baby food or granola bars) and any number of other special projects that help our families remember how supported they are, and how much of a community they have in one another.

Karen’s own story intersected with the story of FSH in such a way that everyone learned a little bit more about what it means to work together for a good and common cause.  And as Karen will tell you, we’ve got plenty of spirit around this place as a result!

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That’s the thing about Family Scholar House and our stories–we’ve all got one.  Every staff member, every volunteer, every family–we’ve all got a story about why FSH matters to us.  Karen’s is just one.

What will yours be?

“It’s like a circle!” she said….

The books were donated from those known and unknown.  Some came from The Temple’s annual used book sale.  Some came from high school seniors at North Oldham High School eager to do their part and help.  Some came as the result of Christ United Methodist Church’s Fall Into Reading event for FSH families last November.  They’ve come from individuals, groups and families all over the state of Kentucky and beyond.

We’ve had these books for a while now, dreaming of the day when they could finally line the shelves of the reading room at FSH’s Stoddard Johnston Scholar House campus.  Thanks to SJSH nearing completion enough to house the books, and the University of Louisville’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, produced by the Engage Lead Serve office, today became the day.  The project isn’t quite done–there is still alphabetizing and organizing and straightening to do, but the hardest work has been graciously and joyfully completed at the hands of fourteen young women and their UofL staff advisor.

Halfway through their work today, one of the young women approached the FSH staff person on site and said, “Ma’am, what are you going to do with the books you don’t use?”  In corner of the room was a growing pile of duplicate books and their fate had not been decided.

The staff member responded, “Well, I’m not sure.  Why?”

“Well, I’m in the honors program at school,” the young woman said, “and every year we host a book sale in the Red Barn, and the profits go to a designated charity.  This year, we’re giving all the money to Kosair’s ICU.  I wondered if maybe I could take the extra books for our sale.”

The staff member thought for a minute and then decided, “Yes.  Yes, you can have them.  For that cause, you can have them.”

And the student smiled her thanks and replied, “Oh, and if we have any books leftover after our sale, we give them to Wayside.”

More than one Family Scholar House kiddo has known the care of Kosair Children’s Hospital.  And more than one FSH family has known shelter at Wayside Christian Mission.  Knowing these two important connections, the staff member shared them with the student.

“Oh!” the student shouted gleefully, “It’s like a circle!” 

And yes.  As a matter of fact it is a circle:  a circle of donated books and selfless service and shelter in times of need and care in times of sickness and a way forward when there seems to not be any such way.  This is what it means to work together–out of relationship–on behalf of those who need some help, that new opportunities might be made known and new ways of being might be lived into.

Home for the Holidays

It was just after three in the afternoon, plenty of sunlight outside streaming in through the big front windows–but every light in the apartment was on, blazing–even the little lights over the bathroom sink and the kitchen counters.  Even the closet lights.  “I’m sorry,” she said, “I know it’s such a waste of energy, and I won’t leave them all on for long…but it’s just so beautiful!  I want to see it all lit up for a while!”

“It” is her new apartment at Stoddard Johnston Scholar House, the third residential facility of Family Scholar House.  Marleena and her four year-old daughter moved in six days before Christmas.

Like so many others who’ve found their way to FSH, Marleena’s journey has not been easy.  Like so many others, life hasn’t worked out quite like she’d hoped it would, planned for it to.  And, now, like so many others, she’s found a solid place to stand each day and a safe place to be both the best scholar and the best mother she can possibly be.  She has said “yes,” to full-time parenting and full-time school, and, in doing so, has committed to being part of the FSH residential community.  She’s beaming–absolutely lit up with joy at having landed at her new address at Scholar House Way (of her new address she says, “It just makes you sound brilliant!”).

She’s set her sights on the prizes of a nursing degree (via Bellarmine University), homeownership, “rocking” the nursing world and a life that holds more goodness than not.  Her daughter is as amazing as she is and of her Marleena says, “She’s just so smart, and I want someone to grab a hold of that brain!”  What every good mother wants.  In all times and places. 

Marleena knows sadness and desperation, hurt and confusion, loss and fear.  She’s known abuse.  She’s known homelessness.  She’s known feeling like utter failure.  But these days?  These days she knows hope.  

Her story, it’s just beginning.  She’s got the whole world in front of her, no matter the mistakes and heartache and pain of the past.  And, for now, at least in these quiet days after Christmas, her greatest happiness is knowing that she and her daughter are home–and the future is even brighter than those lights she’s got on everywhere.

We do not do this work alone…

With appreciation for all the folks at Gray’s Bookstore who support and encourage the mission of Family Scholar House!

Chris Merrifield, Director of Operations for Gray’s College Bookstore, has both a vision for how community can be encouraged and why it matters so much that it is. He is also a faithful supporter of Family Scholar House.  Walk into his university campus store and you’ll see on multiple surfaces FSH posters and photographs.  And at the front entrance, a big barrel where college students finished with high-priced textbooks can donate them, either to be sold on the Internet (with partial profits benefitting FSH) or given directly to FSH student-parents who need them.

Accompany him across the street to a new store, just now opening, and you’ll find space that is dedicated to both unique retail and, perhaps more importantly, community.  He’s envisioned a place where people want to be—where they have space to drink coffee or study or talk or write or dream or imagine or just simply belong.  Chris knows that community matters, and that everyone needs a community to call their own.

And this is why he understands FSH so well, why he gets that at the heart of what happens to those who participate in FSH’s programs is a realization that they are not alone.  That someone cares.  That no matter where they’ve been or what they’ve been through, there are people willing to stand in the trenches with them, and help them find the tools they need to climb out.

The truth is not a one of us navigates this life without the guidance and direction and support of those who have gone before us, and those who surround us in our day-to-day living.  For the single-parent students at Family Scholar House, men and women who have seen the worst life can mete out, this truth is known.  For those of us who’ve been lucky, who’ve had everything we needed along the way, this truth is sometimes harder to learn.

And in between what is already known and what must be learned lies the very important work of Family Scholar House. 

It takes whole communities to do the work of this place, men and women and children from all walks of life working together towards a common goal.

And the relationships that spring up along the way are testimony to a way of being we’d all be better off paying attention to.  

“I’ve seen you before….”

From FSH Community Integration Coordinator Julie Richardson Brown’s recent visit to Freshman Academy students at Seneca High School 

She’d been looking at me intently for the twenty minutes I’d been speaking, clearly paying close intention, even raising her hand to ask questions every few minutes–questions that indicated a level of familiarity with Family Scholar House I’m not used to seeing when I talk with teenagers about what we do.  Something about her seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t imagine where I’d seen her before, how I could possibly know this young woman.

I’d given an overview of FSH, talked with them about poverty statistics in the United States and in Kentucky (especially as those statistics relate to children) and had begun fielding questions–everything from, “Do FSH participants have to go to U of L for college?” (No!) to “Who pays for everything?”

The young woman raised her hand again, this time with a little more assertiveness. “Yes,” I said, “What’s your question?”

She grinned softly, “Oh, it isn’t a question.  I’ve seen you before, and I wanted to tell you that.  I’ve seen you before at Family Scholar House.”

I must have looked so confused, because she quickly covered for us both, “I was visiting someone.”  Before I could follow-up three more of her classmates had asked questions of their own and I turned my attention to them.

Finally, the class session winding down, I passed around a page from some FSH informational material, and as the students looked at it, I caught up with their teacher about some possible volunteer opportunities for her students.  And then, again, I heard the soft voice, “Hey!”

Her teacher and I both turned to see the young woman pointing excitedly at the FSH material, “Right there! My aunt!  She lives right there!” as she jabbed a finger at a picture of Louisville Scholar House’s apartments.

And suddenly it clicked.  The young woman had definitely seen me before.  And I her.  And her aunt is certainly a resident of LSH.  And a few weeks ago, I took a visitor to FSH to her aunt’s apartment for a tour, and my young Seneca friend had been there helping babysit her aunt’s children.

This young woman’s aunt is one of my new heroes in life–a woman who struggled enough on her own but who still, against all odds, took in and eventually assumed custody of two children who are biologically her cousins.  She didn’t want them to end up in the foster care system.  She knew they needed stability.  She wanted for them to be with family.  So she made room for them her life and now they all live at LSH while she, finally, pursues that dream of a college degree.

I smiled big, my excitement matching that of my young friend, the rest of the class drawn into the loveliness of the moment, too.  The teacher grinned, squeezed my shoulder, knew herself that something special had happened.

Too soon, the bell rang and the moment was lost–but not before it had settled into my heart, bringing a whole lot of hope with it.  Before my day at Seneca was over, three more students made sure I knew that they had a friend or a family member living at Louisville Scholar House, all of them so pleased and proud to have a connection to what they were learning about in class that day.

Such amazing circles of connection and influence we cast–even if completely unaware we’re doing so–and somehow, out of all of it, comes this realization of how closely bound we really are to one another after all.

And then we remember….

Even if there weren’t school supplies stashed away in office corners, donated backpacks lined up smartly along office walls or FSH program participants filling the computer lab stations much more frequently, you’d still know that fall and a new academic year have descended upon Family Scholar House.

It’s just in the air–the same way leaves turning from green to gold and russet have a sort of familiar and promising scent to them.  Interns have arrived in full force.  The phone rings even more than it usually does, and the traffic through offices and around both the Louisville and Downtown SH campuses is heavier.  Plans are underway for for the annual Luncheon, for Halloween, for Thanksgiving, for the holidays of all sorts….  Never mind a new residential facility on its way to completion!

It isn’t uncommon to feel as if you’ve landed on a speeding train, unable to slow down or hop off long enough to catch your breath and make sure you’re headed in the right direction.  There is just a whole lot happening around here these days, and while we celebrate and give thanks for every bit of it–because it all points to good things for both our families and our community–it’s easy to get a little overwhelmed.

And, then, just when you’re in the middle of something really important–maybe data you’ve been struggling to find the time to enter and organize, maybe a grant you’re writing a first draft of, maybe an email you’ve been searching for time all day to send and, finally, you have it–it is, inevitably, then, that the phone will ring again.  And you’ll reach for it with a sigh….

“Hello,” a woman’s soft voice says, “is this Family Scholar House?”

“Yes,” you say, “yes it is–how can I help you?”

There’s silence on the other end, and you can hear the unmistakable sound of a very frightened human being trying to fight back tears so that she can answer your question.

“I don’t know what to do.  My kids, they’re sick; the power, it’s been shut off; I can’t get any more groceries this week and I’ve got no one to help.  I’m scared.  And someone said I should call you.”

And then we remember (as if we could ever really forget….)–then we remember why it is we do this work–why the long hours, the hectic days, the full email inboxes and the constantly flashing voicemail indicator lights.  Then we remember why this work matters, why we’re fortunate to get to do it at all, why being part of this place means being part of making a difference.

We do it for her.  And for her children.  And for every other parent and child like them who has wondered too long and too hard how they’ll ever find a way forward from the difficult, scary and seemingly impossible place they’ve landed in.

We do it for all of us–for everyone in our community–because, as one of our staff often says, “It could just as easily be me making that phone call.”

We don’t ever really forget–sometimes, though, we remember with greater clarity, with renewed energy, with confidence and with hope.  

And then we carry on.