Have you ever thought that a negative situation you experienced would lead to a career goal you couldn’t wait to obtain?
One of our wonderful participants had this happen to her.
Terenca moved into our Stoddard Johnston Scholar House campus in 2011. She came to us for support after surviving an abusive marriage, which forced her to leave her house, filled with not only her belongings, but her vivid memories as well. She and her eight year old daughter, Nailah have found positivity, support and opportunity in their new situation.
Terenca attends the University of Louisville and is on track to graduate in December 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in Individualized Studies which includes: American Sign Language Interpretation, Communications, and Business. She is thrilled and appreciative that UofL allowed her the opportunity to obtain this customized degree.
“I’m going to do something I love”
Terenca knows exactly what she wants to do upon her awaited graduation day. Because of what she’s been through, what she’s seen, and what she loves to do she has decided she wants to create a non-profit organization for deaf or hard-of-hearing women who have been or are currently victims of domestic violence. “I have the American Sign Language knowledge and I am accepted in the deaf community. I want to use my skills to help.” Victims need resources and a safe place to go for assistance that understands their unique needs. Unintentionally, hearing individuals create barriers for deaf or hard-of-hearing people and make it difficult for communication. Terenca wants to establish an organization where deaf or hard-of-hearing women feel comfortable and accepted. Her biggest concern is that women in such situations may feel that they are being misunderstood and isolated by hearing people because of the communication barrier, so instead of staying safe they may choose to return to their abusive situation.
“I want these women to maintain a healthy lifestyle, not just be survivors”
It’s important to Terenca that every woman who has been through any type of violence not only survives it, but realizes turning their life around for the better is an attainable goal. She realizes her goal of opening this incredible non-profit organization will take time, but she is in no hurry. She wants to be sure her program offers childcare, counseling, positive parenting, education, and community outreach. Terenca is very familiar with the ‘Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services,’ which is located in Seattle, Washington. She plans to create an organization similar to this one. Because she understands the mission we have at Family Scholar House and has had the opportunity to live in our supportive housing, she now wants to give back and help women who have been in similar situations.
“My goal is to not overwhelm myself after graduation. I’ve been telling myself that for a while and I’ve stayed ahead of the game.”
Terenca is a hardworking student and a fantastic mother. She is very involved in the deaf community and will participate in the 2014 Deaf Awareness Week hosted by Louisville American Sign Language Association. Terenca will support her fellow women as they attend and speak at the annual Take Back the Night event on September 30. Terenca is living the commitment that to whom much is given, is expected– and she is up to the challenge.
There’s hope beginning to glimmer behind her eyes.
Those five years–five years between her finding the courage to leave an unhealthy relationship and seek something better for herself and her children and now–they were so often more than she thought she could survive.
Nights wondering where dinner would come from. Days racing against the clock to get to the shelter on time. Having to depend upon others for her daughter’s school uniform and her son’s diapers. The car being home and then losing even that. No tissues for runny noses, no Band-aids for scraped knees, no Ibuprofen for the headaches inevitably born of stress and anxiety. Time marched relentlessly on, but she never could seem to find her place in it, always desperate and constantly on-guard.
During the wee hours she second-guessed herself, questioned if running had been the right thing after all, doubted her ability to be mother enough to the two most precious things in her life, feared that the road to that “something better” was just too long and too hard.
And then she stumbled on a brochure at a community center–bright blue with a smiling mother and child on the front flap, and detailing a program that sounded too good to be true. Still, she called the number, found a friendly voice on the other end, and for the first time in longer than she could remember, felt like hope was possible.
That was eighteen months ago. And now she dances the beautiful grind of college classes and life skills workshops, her children growing in their own educational environments, and all three of them living in a home that is safe, secure and surrounded by a network of supportive friends, staff and volunteers.
And now those eyes, those eyes that for so long cast downward, full of demons and so unsure, they are different. In them you can see shadows of the pain, but that isn’t the whole story. Now, when she looks at you, you can see something else, you can see that all is not lost, and that there is a future so lovely ahead.
Because now…now there’s hope beginning to glimmer behind her eyes. And in that glimmering rests the promise that it will be okay.
We are blessed here at Family Scholar House to be welcomed into Amelia Place (the official residence of the President of the University of Louisville) every year for a gigantic Halloween Party, and we’re grateful to Dr. and Mrs. Ramsey for their gracious hospitality. It’s quite a scene, this party, and you can’t help but leave with a buoyant spirit and twinkling eyes. For this fun evening for our families, we are thankful. And out of it, as you’ll read below, can come some amazing things.
Imagine, if you will, masses of children running around a lovely, historic and spacious home. These children are all in costume and so you’re just as likely to see Buzz Lightyear dash by as you are Rapunzel or Spiderman. There’s pizza galore, accompanied by trays of cupcakes and cookies and candy corn. Fabulous decorations–right down to mechanical rats and a talking witch–adorn the walls and fill up corners, and in one room a magician works to pull a flower out of the ear of a particularly brave five year-old while her peers look on in amazement. Laughter is abundant, as are squeals of delight. And even the littlest ones offer shy smiles at the happy chaos all around them. Moms and dads stand back, grinning at their children and catching up with one another. It’s loud. And bright and wild and messy in the way children’s parties always are.
In a front room, next to a wide window looking out over the Amelia Place lawn, sits a baby grand piano. And around it are children vying for their turn to bang out quickly constructed and jangling melodies.
Into this fray comes one of the FSH single dads. He smiles at it all and then leans over the child currently at the piano bench–his son–and his big and gentle frame sort of takes over the scene. As he places his hands on the keys, it is apparent something more than banging is about to happen. And it does–suddenly over all the noise come lush notes. Intricate harmonies. Music that makes anyone within hearing distance stop what they’re doing and turn towards this something so beautiful.
Spend any amount of time at Family Scholar House, and you’ll know that within its walls dwell the remnants of broken lives. The families who live here have survived some of the very worst life can mete out and are headed into new and more whole realities–but the ghosts of what has been are always with them.
And then, sometimes, an unexpected piece of music–the kind so beautiful it makes your heart ache–comes working its warmth among us all, and in between the notes of it arrive new ways of doing and living and being. Out of despair comes hope. Out of desperation comes confidence and determination. Out of pain comes healing. Out of not knowing where to turn next comes a community to lean into and to trust.
Out of all the darkness comes something beautiful.
And in these moments, we breathe a collective “thank you,” for everything that makes the something beautiful happen.
“What does compassion mean to you?” the intern asked.
The resident thought for a minute and asked, “Can I get back to you on that?” A few days later, came this response, “Here’s what compassion means to me,” the email began, and attached, the intern found a picture of the resident’s children, sitting together, being brothers, reading.
It isn’t world-changing, but then again, maybe it is. After all, domestic violence is an all-too-well-known reality for the majority of Family Scholar House residents. Add to this the experiences with homelessness, poverty, inadequate medical care, and food insecurity that many FSH participants have known, and it’s no wonder that for this resident, her two boys sitting quietly and safely and kindly in their home, on a couch together, is an expression of the compassion at work in her life.
Compassion is part and parcel of who we are, what we say, and how we act here at Family Scholar House. And although this has been true since our inception, the FSH Board recently took things a step further, approving an official board resolution as a sign of support for the Compassionate Louisville movement. The resolution is below. Our tremendous thanks to the Board for making such a public statement of who we are at FSH. And our even deeper thanks to the families of FSH, who are, so very often, personifications of compassion themselves.
At Family Scholar House’s Graduation Celebration on May 23rd, Keneysha Rodney delivered the following speech, on behalf of the FSH Class of 2012:
I would like to first give honor to God and thank him for allowing us to be here this evening. I am honored to be here
tonight to represent the Family Scholar House class of 2012. I stand here as one story of many. Our stories differ, some will make you cry, some will make you think, others may make you laugh, and unfortunately, some may make you cringe. Our stories are what brought us here, but that is not where our stories end. With the support and guidance that we have received from FSH, we hope that our stories will now inspire you, encourage you and motivate you.
Before I address the graduates I would like to thank a few people who have helped us collectively, and me personally.
First, I would like to thank Cathe Dykstra. To some of you she is simply the President and CEO of FSH but to us she is more. If you ask Cathe how many children she has her response will be “over 600.” She is referring to number of families FSH serves. Cathe is a visionary. I am thankful for her vision, her dedication and her determination to see that this program is not only successful but that it thrives. She is a mother in the fullest sense and she does not play about her children. I love you Cathe. Not because of the early morning trips to radio stations, television studios or newspaper interviews or the late night galas and fundraisers or the midday tours of my apartment, but because of the advocacy, the long and often late nights, and the miles you have put on many pairs of really cute shoes to ensure that we have what we need to succeed.
Second, I would like to thank the all of the staff, interns and volunteers. We thank you for all of the late nights, the workshops, the events, the phone calls, the meetings and definitely the child care. We don’t know if you knew what you were signing up for when you accepted this job, but we hope it has been as rewarding for you as it has been for us. If we have not said it enough: thank you, thank you, thank you!
I would also like to thank our community. Two years ago, I attended a graduation ceremony similar to this one at the Louisville Scholar House campus when I earned my Associates degree. I was overwhelmed by the presence of numerous members of the community. I was new to the program, and I did not know who they were or what purpose they served, but I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, this is bigger than me! There is a whole community of people counting on me to succeed.”
Over time I learned that these people were willing to give of their time, talents, finances and resources. We’ve had mentors, life coaches, cooking classes, financial and homeownership workshops, adoption of our families for Christmas so that our children have presents to open, Thanksgiving and Mother’s Day dinners, exercise and chess classes, book clubs, food, clothing and household items…the list goes on and on and on. I am also thankful for the lasting relationships I have built from these connections. You have served us well and we hope that our accomplishments today have been worth your investments.
We would also like to thank the faculty and staff of the various high schools, colleges and universities we represent. Thank you for understanding the complexity of our situations, yet still challenging us to excel. Many of you have been asked to be here specifically because you have impacted our life beyond the classroom. There was something you did or said or shared that motivated us to move forward. Thank you. I am particularly partial to my advisor and professors from the University of Louisville Kent School of Social Work…GO CARDS.
To our family and friends: We could not have done this without your support and encouragement. Whatever capacity you have served, whether it was watching our kids so that we could finish a paper or encouraging us when we were overwhelmed, just listening, or recognizing when we needed a laugh and to get out and have some fun, we appreciate you.
I love you Mom, and I would like to ask my daughters Kennedi and Nadia to stand up, and all the children of FSH residents: We would not be here if it were not for you. You are our inspiration and motivation. We thank you for your understanding and we have depended on your resiliency and flexibility. You have had to sacrifice right along with us. You have gone to bed early so that we could study and finish assignment,s and sometimes had to give up doing something fun because we needed to work or study. Thank you for being right here with us.
And now to the graduates: You have already heard or will hear many motivational messages at your commencement ceremonies. I must admit I had no idea what to say to you, I even googled “How to write a graduation speech” and even though they gave good pointers, there was nothing out there that captured this particular set of graduates. We are unique. We have defied the odds, overcome societal and cultural stigma, and many other obstacles and challenges and we have done it well. Whatever brought you here, whether it was divorce, homelessness, abuse or just a series of unfortunate events, we have overcome. My encouragement to you is to keep going. If you have earned your high school diploma continue to higher education, if you have earned your Associates, go for your Bachelor, if you have earned your Bachelor go for your Masters, if you have earned you Masters go for your Doctorate! If you are going into employment go in confidently.
No one can take away this achievement, it is ours. I hope that you all feel the same confidence and value that this achievement has added to my life. Let’s go out and do great things, and always remember you are an ambassador for Family Scholar House. Share your stories and your successes so that you may be the one person in someone else’s life who may need to hear about this. Most importantly, remember to come back and give back in some capacity. It is our responsibility now to ensure the lasting success of this program.
I really don’t have much else to say except “Congratulations!” and the infamous…WE DID IT! Thank you!
Keneysha concluded her speech with these words of Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
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.
The letter below was written by Elizabeth Scott, a post-program FSH participant. Elizabeth is a proud University of Louisville graduate. She holds a Masters of Social Work and has dedicated her life to helping others. She is a dedicated mother to two children. The words she wrote below are intended for new FSH participants–she has given permission for them to be shared here. They are words of hope, of encouragement, and of determination. Three things crucial to the families who are FSH! Really, three things crucial to all of us!
You don’t have to wait until New Year’s to make a resolution or set a new goal. Every day is a turning point and there’s no time like now to make a change! Congratulations on becoming a part of Family Scholar House–through FSH you will gain access to a multitude of resources that can help you overcome just about any obstacle you may encounter. As a graduate of the program I wish to offer you encouragement and a few success tips that I picked up along the way.
It is important to prioritize and balance your time wisely. I had never attended school on a full-time basis prior to coming to FSH and had to adjust quickly. There will be some people, places and things that will have to be let go of in order to maintain your full schedule. Surround yourself with like-minded residents and build a good support system.
Take advantage of all the happenings at FHS. It’s a good opportunity to meet new people, and gives you and your children free and fun activities to be involved in together. Utilize services such as counseling, financial management, and workshops on an array of topics. Community members often volunteer their time and offer useful services.
One of the best things you can do to have a successful career (besides the obvious of academic success) is to establish contacts by networking. FSH has ample opportunities to volunteer and represent the organization; for example, you may host a home tour or join the Speakers Bureau. Take every opportunity to meet people in your field of choice and key community members. I suggest creating business cards for a more professional introduction, even if it just states you are student.
Always, always, always follow-up with thank-you notes! FSH is knit together by a lot of volunteers who ask for nothing in return, they simply want to help you reach your goal and support and encourage your family along the way. Saying “thank-you” matters.
No two people have the exact same path. I encourage you to find your way by making the most of what FSH has to offer. Talk openly with your case manager. Be honest. Grow from this experience. If you’re anything like me, in no time your confidence will soar with increased stability, you will have a firm foundation of academic resources, and most importantly you’ll be a positive role model to the most precious ones in your life! “My mommy rocks,” says my daughter Nevaeh, age 9!
“Hey honey, let’s split up this package of tissue boxes. There’s five in there, and I only need a couple of them.”
“Didn’t you say your son likes chicken? There’s a whole one in the freezer section. Chef Nancy taught us how to cook those–you want it?”
“Here’s the toothbrushes you need!”
“Can we split this set of paper towels, too?”
“Wait, nevermind–I don’t need those.” (Imagine this speaker shaking her head and placing the package of cookies back on the rack.)
Three women. All single mothers with multiple children. All noticeably older than the young women they sit in college classes with. All of whom are surviving–no, triumphing–over the circumstances that have led them to be Family Scholar House residents.
Yesterday these three women visited the FSH pantry and supply area together. The pantry is regularly stocked by Dare to Care. The supply area is thankfully often full of donations from FSH supporters, both individuals and local businesses. In this pantry and supply area can be found kitchen staples and basic household items. Paper towels, Kleenex, cleaning agents–these can all strain a meager budget, no matter how carefully it is managed. And food stuffs courtesy of Dare to Care are how many of our families are able to put balanced, healthy meals on the table.
Yesterday these women “shopped” together–chattering and laughing, exchanging stories about their children and their professors and what stresses them out. They helped each other find what was needed, encouraged each other to get what would work best in each household (“I don’t know how to cook that chicken–but you do–take it.”).
They are community–kindred spirits in their common endeavor to be the best scholars and mothers they can be. Their few minutes in the pantry embodied what matters most about Family Scholar House–our belief that we are–all of us–stronger together.
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.
“I dropped out of high school at fifteen,” she said. Nobody really cared—there’d never been a high school graduate in her family anyway and like most folks in her tiny Western Kentucky community it made sense for her to just go to work at the local manufacturing plant. The money was good, benefits were even included, and working there meant being with people she knew and cared about.
Education just wasn’t a priority, and no one really saw a need to make it one with stable employment available nearby. “Besides,” she says, “school wasn’t for me. I always felt slow. Like I wasn’t quite getting it.”
And then the horrible unexpected happened. Ten years into that stable employment, the factory closed—moved to Mexico in search of cheaper company labor—and so along with hundreds of friends and family members she was left jobless. The closest similar work was some distance away and only had second and third shifts to offer. By then she had two children, making such a commute for such irregular hours next to impossible.
Along the way she’d managed to obtain her GED and so she thought maybe she’d try college. For an entire semester she drove the twenty minutes in to a nearby community college, only to sit in the parking lot staring at classroom buildings, unable to go in. “I just didn’t think I could do it.”
She tried a new town and some job training. It didn’t work out. Again—shift work unmanageable with children at home. She applied for work. Tried school again. But the precarious balance of attempting school while having to work and single motherhood proved to be too much. Life got very difficult, very quickly.
One day, desperate and at her rope’s end, she typed, “single parent help” into the blank slot on a computer screen and clicked, “Google search.” Up popped Family Scholar House.
“I’d never been to Louisville. Knew nothing about the city. My family thought I was crazy to even think about it.” She did it anyway. Packed up her children and her life and moved to a strange city on the very slim hope that Family Scholar House could provide her the support she needed. She applied to the University of Louisville, terrified to do so. She called FSH and became an active pre-resident. She dealt with a family who just didn’t understand her decision.
And now, almost five years after that plant in Western Kentucky shut down, she is a Family Scholar House resident, a fulltime student at the University of Louisville and the mother of two children who are so very proud of their mother and the work that they have all done—together—to create a future for themselves.
She says she often wondered how in the world she’d do it. Often thought, “I can’t believe this is happening.” She says she just couldn’t get her head around the opportunity Family Scholar House offered and that there isn’t a day that goes by now that she doesn’t count her blessings.
She googled “single parent help.” And found it. And with that help came confidence to do the things she was sure she could not do.