Her Story/Our Story

The thing about stories is that everyone has them.  

Here at Family Scholar House, each individual story contributes to the larger story of who we are, what we do, and how we make a difference in the world.

This morning, a soon-to-be Family Scholar House resident sent an email to one of our staff members, an email telling her story of how she came to FSH.  With her permission, an excerpt from that email is shared below:

Almost three years ago, I had to literally flee for my life from an abusive
marriage.  At 4:00 in the morning I put my three year-old daughter in the
car, loaded some personal items, and I drove 16 hours from Dallas, TX
straight Louisville, KY.  As I drove out of the driveway, I felt this panic
and sorrow come over me…I was leaving the comforts of a beautiful home, a
high paying job and friends that loved me.  I looked over at my baby girl
and told myself, “Do not look back, nothing is more important than your

life and providing a safe and secure environment for your daughter.”

Over the past few years we have had to live where ever someone would let us
stay, some conditions were good and some were bad; sometimes even living
out of my car.  I have been crying for almost three years, and I was about
to literally give up…ready to end my life when someone suggested I contact
the Family Scholar House.   I was skeptical that they would be able to help
me; I was already on several waiting lists for housing assistance, but was
told it would take 2-5 years.  So together we made the phone call
… and now I am about to be a resident…From the moment I was notified of the good news, my daughter and I have ridden by the construction site weekly to look at the place that will soon be our “home”; such a simple word, but so powerful. I have not been able to say that word in almost three years, it
feels so good to say it now.
Her story–but part our FSH story, too.  And a reminder of why we do this work, and of all the incredible donors, supporters and volunteers who make it happen.  For all of them we are thankful.
And we are especially thankful for our families–for their witness to what strength, courage, and determination can do, for their efforts at being the best parents and scholars they can be, for their willingness to share their stories–in order that our collective story might be one that celebrates the goodness and potential and promise in each of us.
Happy Thanksgiving!
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Not quite like that TV show….

“It sure isn’t The Cosby Show,” he says, a wry grin accompanying the slow shaking of his head, “that’s what I grew up seeing as the ideal.  But my life–it isn’t like that.”

And it isn’t.  At forty years old he’s a single dad to an almost two-year old girl.  And, like all Family Scholar House residential participants, a full-time college student.  He’s majoring in Human Services, “I want to help people.  I think probably youth who are at-risk.  Counseling, maybe.”  The way he says it–deep voice speaking softly, warm personality so obviously sincere–you get the feeling that any youth who come in contact with Travis will be awfully lucky to have him as mentor and advocate.  You feel like he’ll really make a difference.

It didn’t occur to him that his job at a local manufacturing and assembly plant wouldn’t work out.  Business was good–he had a steady paycheck giving him a comfortable lifestyle, health insurance, and friends and family around.  He was well into his mid-thirties and so far not having a college degree hadn’t posed a problem.

And then he got a phone call from an old girlfriend.  She was pregnant, and a strong possibility existed that the child was his.  The next few months were difficult ones for him, and for the woman who would eventually deliver his daughter.  His job got lost in a company buy-out and reorganization, and finding other employment with sufficient pay and comparable benefits proved impossible.  Eventually, he resigned himself to drawing unemployment and trying to go to school.

In the meantime, his daughter’s mother was battling addiction–a battle that eventually lead to his daughter being born inside the walls of a prison.  When he learned that the baby was his, he sought full custody, “I embraced the opportunity to have a child,” he says, and began the work of trying to balance work, education and single fatherhood.  Decent and affordable housing proved difficult.  Making ends meet proved difficult.  It all proved very, very difficult.  But Travis was determined.

And then one day a friend and classmate at school–a single mom–told him about the place supporting her as she worked towards a self-sufficient and wide-open future for her own little family. Travis called Family Scholar House at her suggestion, and several months later found at FSH the kind of support, the kind of home, the kind of community that he and his daughter were in such great need of.

He prays for his daughter’s mom regularly.  Does his best to surround his daughter with nurturing care and dependable support. He worries that she’ll miss out by not having both her parents around.  He wants for her a balanced and fulfilled life. If you ask him what his favorite thing to do with his daughter is he’ll tell you, “Oh, making her talk!  Every time she learns a new word, it’s amazing!”

And he’ll tell you how thankful he is for places like FSH, so thankful that he’s committed his own life to being one of service.  He’ll pay it forward, to be sure.  And he’ll do it in such a way that the ripples of the grace granted him, will grace the lives of many others.

“I want to be that one person!”

No one can take away my education or my confidence.

–Keneysha, University of Louisville senior, Social Work

“How did I get here?” she asks, smiling, “Well, that’s my favorite part of the story.  It just took one person knowing about this place for me to get here.”

A former military wife who’d depended upon her husband’s salary, she found herself unexpectedly divorced with two preschool daughters, and not much in the way of a marketable resume or education.

“There I was,” she says quietly, “separated, trying to decide where to go and what to do, and I remember hearing this voice—God—saying, ‘just stay’ so I did.”  She found an apartment, got a job, put her daughters in daycare for the first time in their young lives, and enrolled in a nearby community college.  She says she didn’t sleep a lot during those years, and that the worst part was that she had so little time with her girls.

“We’d pack everything into Saturdays.  All the cleaning and laundry and errands.  And then Sunday we were always at church.”  Still, somehow she managed, eventually earning her Associates’ degree.  That was enough to spur her on to more, determined to make a self-sufficient life for her little family.  She applied and was accepted to the University of Louisville, and even though she lived an hour away, made the commitment to work on her degree.

“I called the housing office one day and asked about single-parent family housing.  They told me they didn’t have any, but that they could refer me to some apartments near the campus.  I knew I couldn’t afford an apartment, and then, whoever I was talking to said, ‘Well, there is this one program I know about’….”

That one program was Family Scholar House, and she immediately called, got to an orientation and began working towards housing.  Still living an hour away, she made the drive into town for workshops, academic advising and case management.  “I worked it!” she laughs, “even knowing that there were other participants who lived closer, who could be around more.”

And then one day, when she and her girls were coming to FSH for Christmas items, she decided that it was crucial the staff at FSH remember her name and face.  “So I went in there, with both girls, and I stood in the social worker’s office, and I said ‘This is us.  Please don’t forget us. Please know who we are.’”

By the next spring, she and her girls had an apartment, and she had the immense joy of walking to school for the first time. “It was great!” she says, “I loved it!  Had my backpack and everything!”

Now her girls see college as a “when and which one” not as an “if.”  They are learning important lessons about receiving gifts, and then living lives that give back out of what they’ve been given.  “I don’t ever want my girls to see the things we’ve been given at Family Scholar House as a ‘supposed to’ sort of thing,” she says, “what we’ve been given, it’s all blessing.”

And sharing that blessing is how she wants to spend her life when she’s graduated come next spring, and then her Master’s finished a year later.  A woman of immense faith, she is clear about one thing: “I’m open to wherever God leads me, and would love to use the skills I’m learning to give back, in whatever capacity that may be.”

She adds, “I want to use what I have to the fullest, and take care of myself and my girls in the process.  And I want to be the one person who tells someone else who needs it about Family Scholar House.”

An FSH Father’s Story

He’d had the Family Scholar House business card for weeks.  Ever since the ceremony honoring him as the 2010 Alumnus of the Year for his high school–and FSH staffer happened to be there, and heard how he’d hit a major bump in the road.

The manager of a very well-known and very successful local restaurant, he’d begun to make a name for himself in the community—a  strong family, a good business head and a easy-to-be-with personality all combining to make things work.  The first pass at college had ended with his assuming primary custody of his then preschool-aged daughter; but, still, with the restaurant gig, things were going well and he was managing.

And then he got hurt—a foot injury serious enough that he couldn’t keep up at the restaurant, a subsequent back injury leaving him no choice but to resign from his job, that little girl still at home depending on her Daddy to raise her and keep her fed and clothed and safe.

“I don’t like to ask for help,” he’ll tell you, adding, “I’d been the one helping people all my life, and now, suddenly, I was having to figure out what I was gonna do.”  He could have stayed with family—but wanted independence.

“Finally,” he says, “I just had to ask myself two questions:  Will I be alright if I keep on like this?  Will my daughter be alright if I keep on like this?”  The first question, he says, was easy—“I knew if it was just me I’d make it—somehow, I’d make it.  But the second question—well, she deserves more than just scraping by.  If I hadn’t asked for help, she might not be okay.  And I want her to be okay.”

And so finally he picked up that FSH business card called.  And, still, you can hear in his voice how very difficult it was to punch those numbers and make that call. 

He and his daughter are FSH residents now.  He’s a student at U of L, his sights set on their business school and a career in finance and investments, a sparkle in his eye as he talks about how much it interests him to see a company build itself from the ground up, or discover how a company has turned profits in a struggling economy.  His daughter is one of the most well-known kiddos around FSH, talking a mile a minute if you let her about all sorts of things and very, very proud of her Daddy. 

“People should care about each other,” he says, “too often we don’t.”  He adds that he thinks our society has a self-first sort of attitude, one that gets us in trouble.  “You gotta care.  You gotta make a difference in this world,” he says.

He shrugs off the notion that he’s any kind of hero.  “I’m just doin’ what you do when you have responsibilities.  I know too many fathers don’t stick around, and people sure didn’t expect me to get custody of my daughter.  But I’m just doin’ what I’m supposed to do.”

Maybe—but he’s doing it with a heart full of love for his child, and a future so unbelievably bright. 

This is my family….

No matter how much you may be struggling personally, you have to pull through for your children—it isn’t about you.  It is about them.  If you don’t succeed, who will they have?

–Brooke, age 26, Family Scholar House resident and participant, University of Louisville, ‘12

“I wouldn’t wish my life on anyone,” she says softly, but with the quiet strength and fierce determination that has gotten her this far evident in how unabashedly she can look you in the face while saying it, smiling so beautifully as she does.  Her life has been the stuff movies are made of—not of the romantic comedy type, but of the make-you-think-and-feel-hard type.  The kind that would garner the actress playing her an Oscar.

A former competitive gymnast and cheerleader, she was thrown out on her own at fifteen after quitting due to injury, spending the rest of her high school years living wherever she could find space with family or friends—and still graduating on time with honors.

She is a survivor of both physical and emotional abuse.  She is the mother of two boys, the eldest of whom has multiple behavioral and learning disorders.  Of this child she is the sole custodian as of a recent long and hard-fought court battle.  Her youngest child is occasionally visited by his father, her former fiance and a veteran of the Iraq War so destroyed by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that he can barely function, much less maintain his parental duties and rights.

Those are the bare bones of a full-fledged story more difficult to hear than you could possibly imagine.  Because it is real.  It happened—to her.  And most folks would be down for the count after having lived the hell she has.

But she will graduate from the University of Louisville next spring with an impressive GPA and Bachelor’s degree in Special Education, sights already set on her Master’s degree.  She is an advocate for children like her oldest son, boys and girls with a whole lot stacked against them simply because no one really understands them.  She can speak with more grace than seems possible about what she’s been through, focusing the entire time she talks on the people and places in her life that steered her towards wholeness:  an aunt who sticks by her no matter what, a boss who saw her incredible potential, a professor who knew that this student was special…and, Family Scholar House.

“This place,” she says, “is my family.  These people here, they are my family.”  And suddenly, if you are listening to her, the old adage that one cannot choose family seems horribly bogus—because she has, indeed, chosen who it is she claims as her own, her lifeblood.  And the children she’ll work with in the classroom soon?  “I think I’ll have something different to offer,” she says.

You bet she will.  She will teach out of tremendous resilience, unbeatable strength, and awesome courage—all of it part and parcel of who she is, all of it her legacy to those boys of hers, all of it enough to make one think this world just might turn out okay after all.

 

Fertilizing the Future

She has learned in the fire that the very best laid and well-intentioned plans can go awry, leaving one not entirely sure which way is up.

She certainly did not expect her marriage to fall apart, her two children to come quite as quickly as they did, and her husband to leave, their deal for him to finish school, then her, suddenly off the table.  She didn’t plan on vicious bouts of postpartum depression.  Not a single thing went like she thought it would, and before she even realized how bad it really was, she found herself moving in with her former mother-in-law until she could get back on her feet, her new identity as a single mother to a baby and a toddler not quite learned and certainly not prepared for.

That was almost four years ago.  And since then a great deal has happened—some of it painful and awful and heartbreaking and not bearing repeating; but, thankfully, some of it so very good and worthy of celebration!

She’s learned to focus on her children first and foremost.  She’s learned to prioritize, to manage time, and to set big goals (and reach them!).  She’s learned that quitting isn’t an option—not if she wants what is best for those kids.  She’s found another piece of her identity as a very successful nursing student at Bellarmine University, and she cannot wait until she’s in the field caring for people.

She knows what it is to fall asleep at night wishing that she would just not wake up come morning.  And she knows what it is to suddenly realize all is not lost and that she has reason to hope.

“There is no such thing as a perfect life,” she says, a wry smile breaking across her lovely face.  “And now  I choose to think of all the bad stuff as just having been fertilizer.  All that stuff that got dumped on me—on us—now it’s just fertilizer for a really incredible future.”  She sees new little things shooting up out of that mess all the time, she says, and that tells her that there are some beautiful things waiting for her and her children.

“My kids, they talk about going to college all the time.  And they talk about when we have our own house, just the three of us—and our dog.”  If you ask her what kind of dog, she’ll laugh and say, “Oh they already have it picked out!  A Bull Mastiff—black, and named Midnight.”  And then she’ll tell you they could not have done it without Family Scholar House.  That at FSH she’s learned there are people who really care, who are willing to go to bat for you, who want you do to well.

She knows which way is up, now.  And she’s heading up with her head held high.  Her children right there with her all the way.

I’m Not the Only One

Her tiny frame belies the unbeatable strength within it.  She is all energy, solid determination and pure grit.  She also possesses a smile that could light up all of downtown Louisville, so easily and brightly it flashes across her face.

In the spring of 2008, she delivered the valedictory address for her high school graduating class, having earned the highest GPA of all her peers.  At the time, she was also three months pregnant with her now almost-three James.

Life got more than a little rocky after that.  And now, more than three years later and with a broken engagement, a delayed college acceptance, and a too-long stretch of not being sure where she had to live behind her, she is a full-time student at the University of Louisville, an Early Childhood Education major with impressive academics and lofty goals.

“Where do I want to be in ten years?” she asks, “I want a house for me and James.  I want to be in the classroom teaching.  And I want to be back in school—or already have completed my Masters.”   One cannot hear her speak these dreams and doubt that they will come true.

She is also proof of the great strength to be found in community.  Ask her where her greatest support comes from and she’ll say “my family,” and then quickly, “but also this place.”  “I’m not the only one,” she says, with such beautiful conviction, “I’m not the only one.”

Her three great life lessons so far?  Never give up.  Everything happens for a reason.  With hard work comes reward.  Her words.  Her story.  Her truths that she is building life for herself and James around these days.

“Nothing is impossible,” she says.  And somehow, you can’t help but believe her.

Orientation

The vast majority of them have arrived at the end of their respective ropes.  Done with systems, with heartbreak, with loss, with not being able to make ends meet no matter how hard they try.  They come often having been hurt both physically and otherwise, sometimes having made any number of bad decisions but wanting so much for things to be different.  They come looking for someone to say, “I’m here.  I can help.  And you can trust me.”

The word orientation has to do with finding one’s way—and the men and women who show up for Family Scholar House orientations are definitely looking for a way—a way out, a way up, a way forward, a way past all that has gone wrong and into a new way of living life.  It isn’t easy to commit to what FSH has to offer, but it does work, and you can see it in the eyes of the ones who realize that, “This is different.  This makes sense.  These people might actually care and want me to succeed.”

They come with different stories, different backgrounds, different experiences, more of them than you’d imagine stuck in a cycle not of their own creation—you can’t stereotype anyone or assume anything.  If you do, you’ll soon find yourself humbled.  And rightfully so.  This is why it matters that their voices are heard, that their commitment and determination and strength are lifted up as the bright spots of hope that they are.

Today two women met at an orientation:  different skin color, different generations, different reasons for how they’d ended up making a phone call to FSH, but a shared dream of not having to be afraid and hopeless anymore, a shared interest in creating a future for their children, a shared knowledge of what it means to have the bottom fall out and then begin fighting your way back.

Today was their mutual first step, and as they left, they exchanged, “Maybe I’ll see you again soon.”  “Yes, maybe so.  I hope so.”