Coming Full Circle

Helene Trager-Kusman, one of our Academic Advisors, shares a glimpse into her time at FSH.


2016 has brought many new opportunities for me, including the life-changing experience of being introduced to Family Scholar House. When I first learned of the non-profit that supports low-income, single parents access wrap around services, including housing, as they work towards their degree, I thought it was too good to be true. Programming for parents and young, impressionable children that inspired and scaffolded their becoming successful students and citizens… available to them for free? I was absolutely intrigued and eager to learn more.

Meeting with the “Chief Possibility Officer,” Cathe Dykstra and VP of Programming, Kristie Adams, I learned more about the mission to break the cycle of poverty by empowering families with education. As aformer public school teacher in the DC area, I had spent years working with children and families in poverty wishing I could do more. I grew to understand that without family support and long lasting solutions, there was a brick wall that stood between education and hungry minds.  These were the first of hundreds of women, who would inspire me day after day in this rapidly growing, dynamic community.

Family Scholar House has partnered with the Petrino Family Foundation to encourage and teach mindfulness to the community. I started as a volunteer at Family Scholar House with one of my first events being an eight week mindfulness training with the Earth and Spirit Center. It moved me to watch how mindfulness could lift the heavy weights off participants’ shoulders, even if it was just for a few quiet moments. Continuing as a full staff member, I now see how mindfulness is incorporated in so many practices of the program, including a Mindfulness Superhero day for kids where I got to connect my work to my passion of teaching children’s yoga. This mindfulness practice has encouraged me to take the time to think about what has inspired me in 2016 and what will motivate me in the new 365 days to come.

I can’t put into words how inspired I am by the students I support. I often wonder if they know that they give me so much more than I could ever give them through the academic advocacy and support I provide in my role here. Instead of trying to do it for them, I would like to share the inspiring story of one of our participants which came across my desk this week while editing some scholarship essays. Seeing these familiar stories in their beautifully written words really resonates and allows for mindful reflection of how all of our journey’s can be connected to a bigger and greater long lasting purpose.


Life has never been easy for me, but I will beat the odds. I am my son’s teacher, nurturer and mother. My goal is to lead by example for my child. At 15 I was diagnosed with Juvenile diabetes. My health has been an issue since and it is a daily struggle. My goal is to help other diabetic’s understand the disease and manage a healthy lifestyle. I am currently in school to become a Nurse Practitioner, with a GPA of a 3.8.

“Life has never been easy for me, but I will beat the odds.”

I became homeless at 18 years old, with nowhere to go, no source of income, and a high school dropout. I went to Salvation Army. My case worker had mentioned the YMCA Safe Place as a place I could go for a shower, clothes and food. With the support I had from the staff at the YMCA, I got a job, and my first apartment. I became a motivational speaker and leader for the YMCA Safe place. I speak at events and encourage young adults my age that where you are now, is not your future.

 During this time, I found out I was pregnant. I had no idea of how I was going to take care of this little heart beating inside of me.  I made a decision sitting there in the hospital that this child would never go without, or have to endure the pain and abandonment I had been through.

After having my son, I went back to high school and graduated on September 12, 2015. I spoke with my teachers about furthering my education. That same day I applied for Community College. I began school in January 2015 and have remained determined in continuing my education since.  My short term goal is to get my Associates in Science and get accepted into a university to get my BSN-PhD in Nursing. My long term goal is to become a Nurse Practitioner, work at a family office, and help diabetics who struggle with the disease.

My first semester of school, I worked full-time and went to school part-time. I received a 4.0 GPA. I am now a resident at Stoddard Johnson Family Scholar House. With my degree, I will educate and inform other diabetics that we can live healthy lives and achieve our full potential.

FSH participant


Because you cared about my family…

Keneysha, an FSH graduate reflects back on our Adopt-A-Family project and how it all came full circle for her family.

I remember the very first year our family was adopted for Christmas.  It was a difficult year for me financially, so much so that in order not to kill the joy of the Christmas for my children I made up a noble yet duplicitous story. I told my girls that we were given so much throughout the year that Christmas was a time to give back. I told them that they wouldn’t receive anything on Christmas instead we would make things for friends, family members and others in need.

Though this taught my girls a great deal, I felt badly that they wouldn’t experience the joy of opening their own gifts.
Thankfully this changed because of FSH. When I learned that a generous family had graciously adopted my family I was floored. I remember my girls and I didn’t even have a tree.  They were at school when I received notification that our gifts were available for pick up. I was so excited to see the packages wrapped beautifully and with love with each of our names on them. I found a place in our apartment and set them up as decoratively as possible. When the girls came home they were so excited! The looks on their faces were priceless matched only by the joy on their faces as they opened each one Christmas morning.
     It has been over 4 years since I graduated and moved from Family Scholar House. I have gone on to earn a Master’s degree and am fast approaching professional license in my career. The one thing I always vowed to do was give back to the place that had given me so much. One of the ways I knew I would participate was adopting a family for Christmas.
     The first year I adopted a family I was so excited. I didn’t have a huge budget but I knew the little I was able to do would be appreciated by the family receiving our gifts. The next year my boyfriend and I adopted a family and we were able to give more. This year the young adult group at my church came together along with my husband and daughters.  We were able to make a mother/daughter duo (hopefully) very happy this Christmas! I also told friends about the program and they excitedly adopted families of their own. This included a skeptical friend who stated that he hates giving to charities because he never knows if his money is being used appropriately. I was able to share my story and convince him his time and money would not only be well used but well deserved.
     I get so much joy out of giving in this way. I am giddy from the time I get my family’s wish list until the day I drop off the gifts. I have so much (maybe too much) fun shopping! My only regret is not being to see the joy on their faces but then I realize I have seen it. I saw it in the faces of my daughters just a few short Christmases ago.
     There is no way to adequately express the overwhelming joy of experiencing full circle the meaning of selfless giving, receiving and gratitude. I know some say that Christmas is not just about gifts and I believe that is true. The lessons, the stories, the memories that surround those gifts are what makes it worth it!

College Sweatshirt Fridays


If you follow us on social media, you know that College Sweatshirt Fridays kicked off this past week. This tradition at Family Scholar House will continue over the next several months and we want YOU to join in the fun! But first…

You might be wondering how College Sweatshirt 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 sweatshirt, 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 Sweatshirt 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 Sweatshirt 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!



Despite It All- Our Families Make It Happen

The participants at Family Scholar House have made a commitment to not only be full-time parents but full-time students as well.

Our single-parent students are transitioning from poverty and homelessness, overcoming a past of domestic violence and abuse and striving to create a better future for themselves and their children. These single parents walk in our doors looking for support and encouragement, and our staff and volunteers greet them exactly where they are and walk beside them on their journey – from enrolling in school, to the day they walk across the stage – we are there, and we feel honored to be a part of their journey. We work together, day-to-day, and our families make it happen.

Despite the hardships they’ve experienced and the obstacles they have overcome, they want to go to college, they want to become self-sufficient, and they want to provide a better life for their children.

To date, we have celebrated 307 college degrees earned by Family Scholar House participants. Our scholars have a 93% completion rate for college credit hours attempted! Our families take their education seriously because they know that it is the key to having a self-sufficient future.

We provide a comprehensive continuum of services that include stable housing, family advocacy and academic support for 215 single parents’ students.

In addition to the families that live on one of our four campuses, we serve pre-residents. Some of the services we provide include parenting and life skills workshops, financial literacy classes for adults and children, after school homework help, tutoring and peer support workshops. Another unique opportunity we host is conversation cafes, these provide an opportunity for inter-generational conversation around the dinner table by enjoying delicious food and conversation that feeds the soul.

At the end of the day, we could not provide all these services without the support of our generous community. To learn more about how you can help contribute to these success stories, please check out our website, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and consider volunteering!

Give Local Louisville is coming up on September 15, and your donations directly supports our programming. With the support of the community, we work together, day-to-day, and our families make it happen.

Please contact Brianna at if you have any questions or would like to begin the volunteer process.

Gaining Financial Independence

Whitney and Malachi

At Family Scholar House we work alongside single parents as they earn their college degree, obtain career track employment and become fully self-sufficient. On top of offering our scholars the advising and life skills workshops, we also provide financial empowerment activities. These activities directly aid our parent scholars as they become financially independent and embark on a happier, self-sufficient life for their families.

Whitney is one such Family Scholar House post-program participant.

The proud mother to her 6-year-old son, Malachi, Whitney lived at our Downtown Scholar House campus while working on her Bachelor’s of Science and Sociology degree from the University of Louisville. Since graduating in December 2015, Whitney has landed a great new career with a local company. This stable opportunity coupled with her savings in the Family Scholar House future fund account has enabled Whitney to move into a townhouse in a nice neighborhood where her son can play and utilize his imagination.

“I truly appreciate Family Scholar House for allowing me to reach my academic dreams and providing the tools needed to become self-sufficient for myself and Malachi,” said Whitney.

While Whitney begins this new chapter of her life, the whole Family Scholar House community wishes her the best of luck!

I Am A Cancer Survivor & This Is Why I Love Nurses


Dan and TymeshaTwo years ago today, August 5th, I received the troubling news that I had melanoma cancer.  And so began an unknown, stressful, frightening and often painful adventure, one on which, I am so very glad, I was accompanied by attentive nurses.

I love nurses.

Anesthesiologists put me under; surgeons cut on me; oncologists evaluated me. Nurses tended to my nausea, monitored my chemo drug infusion, and calmed my soul.  They attended to my whole self.

A young man studying to be a doctor spent time with me before my second surgery.  He was inquisitive and obviously excited to have the chance to be attached to my surgeon and his team that day, a world-renown surgeon with whom any young medical student would kill to spend time.  He wanted to know all the details of my condition, where the cancer was first found, to what extent it was believed to have spread, and the specifics of the scheduled surgery.  And I answered his questions with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.  For him, I was a problem to be fixed.  Fixing such problems is what surgeons do and that was what he wanted to do with his life.  So be it.  We need him.  So, I helped him.

But while I thanked him for his interest and encouraged him on his path toward becoming a doctor, I also assured him that such a path would never lead to a full discovery of the marvels involved in healing, marvels, more readily found on the road down which nurses travel.

I love nurses.

From the moment we first met, Tymesha knew me and my name.  And each time I returned to the Brown Cancer Center she would knowingly and understandingly greet me.  Amber too came to recognize me when I came in, talking with me and scheduling my future appointments.  That’s what nurses do.  But these two were more.  They were also Family Scholar House participants.

As such, they were both studying to become nurses, and doing so while overcoming numerous personal and cultural obstacles situated to prevent their successful advance.  Theirs is a harder road to travel.

We all can recall the words of the poet Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Family Scholar House participants walk the road less traveled.  While the beaten path beckons to them; and friends, family, and culture nudge them toward it, they opt for the road poorly maintained and rife with potholes.  And their choice makes all the difference.  For this choice is taken only after they have carefully considered the future well-being of their children.  And while the challenges and pitfalls of what lay upon this road can be overwhelming, by staying true to their choice, they provide a hope-filled future for their children.

I undergo medical testing every three months now at the Brown Cancer Center and must face the uncertainty of what those tests may reveal.  But knowing there are special people who have overcome remarkable odds to secure a better life for their children, ensures me, as I walk tentatively through the Center’s hallways, that knowledgeable, committed and loving nurses walk with me.

I ran into Tymesha at the graduation party for Family Scholar House participants in May.  It was so good to see her and to tell her I was melanoma free.  I had stayed the course of the clinical trial and now fully appreciated my health.  Likewise, Tymesha had stayed the course of her studies all the way to graduation and was freed to pursue her career as a nurse.  She had overcome the obstacles along the path, hardships which make the accomplishment all the more fulfilling.

I love nurses, especially those who travel the Family Scholar House road.

Dan Dykstra

Cancer Survivor

Metro College graduate shares Family Scholar House experience

Joi Williams Family Scholar House-580x370 (3)

Participating in a service project with her work group led Joi Williams to new opportunities.

“We were cleaning and preparing apartments for residents at Family Scholar House, which is a Metro United Way agency,” said Joi, a former UPS Metro College student. “While there, I learned that the program assists residents by helping them succeed in education and achieve lifelong self-sufficiency. I thought, ‘this might be a program that could help me and my son.’”

Joi researched the Family Scholar House program and scheduled a meeting with an FSH representative. Within a few months, she was participating in the program.

“Working at UPS as a student in the Metro College program and being a resident at Family Scholar House allowed me to finish school successfully and graduate in a reasonable amount of time,” Joi said. “I wanted an environment that allowed me to be focused on my schooling.”

Even though Joi left UPS in 2014 and completed the program at FSH, she is still connected to both UPS and the agency. She volunteers once a month at FSH speaking to participants about her journey through the program, including how UPS and Metro College helped her finish her bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Louisville.

“Joi uses a wonderful balance of information and encouragement to engage others in the educational opportunities available through Metro College,” Family Scholar House President and CEO Cathe Dykstra said. “By sharing her personal story, Joi inspires others to believe in themselves and all that is possible with hard work and determination.”

Joi’s degree and experience at UPS helped her obtain her current position as a Recruitment Coordinator and Student Development Counselor for the Metro College program at the University of Louisville. She helps Metro College students with career and academic planning, and works with them one-on-one to help prepare them for their chosen career path. Jill Faul, a UPS recruiting supervisor said the recruiting area works closely with Joi and UofL to recruit for UPS employees and Metro College participants and often sharing a table.

Family Scholar House received a $17,600 grant from UPS in July to use toward updating the technology in their computer labs. “UPS and the UPS Foundation have been wonderful supporters of Family Scholar House and our mission to end poverty through education,” said Cathe. ”We have received generous financial support from the Foundation and have had terrific UPSers who have volunteered to do everything from building shelves and installing speed bumps to creating an obstacle course for field day, from painting 14-foot walls to making snowflakes with children.”

Joi thinks it would be impossible for people to know everything United Way does and how many community organizations they are affiliated with. “I would encourage UPSers to consider contributing to United Way because there is a strong possibility that you or a family member has benefited or will benefit by services provided by United Way, or one of its nonprofit agencies.”

Take a Peek Inside FSH

What does summer at Family Scholar House look like? Let’s take a look…

May: We start the summer with a celebration of our freshly graduated participants. Just last month we celebrated 62 college graduates!

June: As we transition into June we watch our residential children attend summer camps. These camps keep them physically active as well as mentally sharp, allowing the children to problem solve while working in teams through fun activities.

July: The middle of summer is actually when we start preparations for the fall. We host our annual community event, Beer & Brats on Baxter, in partnership with local furniture store Eyedia to collect much needed school supplies for our participants. July also hosts our annual Pack-A-Backpack for all participants and their children where we pass out all the school supplies they’ll need to be successful in the upcoming school year.

August: While still technically summer, August represents fall to us. School is back in session and academic needs are in full swing.

Since school is out during the majority of May-August, what do our participants and their children do for summer? How could they enjoy the summer in a healthy, productive manner? We have some ideas!

  • With a little more free time on our hands, summer is an excellent time to evaluate life goals and lifestyles. Maybe we could start running for a local race that is occurring in the fall? Or maybe we can take those summer art classes we’ve been working towards all year.  Or how about that TV series you’ve been interested in finishing but couldn’t due to schoolwork? Being mindful of our emotional, mental and physical healths comes in a variety of activities! Whatever helps you unwind and refresh your brain and body. That’s the focus of being mindful and why not evaluate that process when there’s a little extra time to play around with?
  • Our children are not exempt from this evaluation. Sit them down and ask them what they would like to do for the summer, what goals in life do they have? We tend to not give children enough credit about making their own decisions. But it’s never too early to start including your child(ren) in the discussion of life goals and how to achieve them. Does your child want to attend different summer camps than before? Did a certain activity in a summer camp spark a passion they are interested in learning more about? If summer camps are not an option, has your child been utilizing the free cultural passes from the library? There are dozens of free activities for children to become involved in with local libraries, churches and non-profits. Remember, it’s never too early to develop a dedication to volunteerism.
  • What about having a family staycation(a family vacation in your hometown)? Plan a weekend of nothing but fun activities to do with your family in your neighborhood. Visit a local park, pack a picnic and eat outside, walk across the Big Four Bridge into Indiana, make a meal together, attend the free days at a museum, etc. The list goes on and on.

To our community supporters and readers, would you like to help our parents and their children this summer? Donate your time or resources to bridging the gap between a wasted summer opportunity and a fun-filled, productive summer for our hard-working participants and their children. Host a field day at one of our campuses, donate supplies to ensure safety while away at camp (bandaids, sunscreen, reusable water bottles, etc.) or share other resources they could benefit to learn more about. Do you have any other ideas for what they could do this summer, as a family or individually? Let us know!

Our parent scholars and their children work so hard to achieve their education goals. Let us help them enjoy their summer to make sure they all are refreshed and prepared for the next school year.

Promoting Healthy Eating Habits with Participants

fruit veg

Today, June 17, 2016 marks the official “Eat Your Vegetables” day across the nation. It aligns well with the fact that the whole month of June is officially “National Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Month”.  Both of these holidays were created to help educate the nation on the importance of fruits and vegetables in our daily diet. With this in mind, we always try to communicate to our busy participants the needs of eating, and feeding their children, the appropriate amount of fruits and vegetables.

Why it’s important:

According to, “people who eat more vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet are likely to have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases. Fruits and vegetables provide nutrients vital for health and maintenance of your body”.

The health benefits of eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits are plentiful, but here are a few:

  • May reduce risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke
  • May protect against certain types of cancers
  • May reduce the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes
  • May lower blood pressure, may help to decrease bone loss and reduce the risk of developing kidney stones

Why should this matter for children?

Simply put, children are growing! Ensuring they have all the right nutrients aids in their development and growth.  Better school performance, improved nutrition, decreased obesity and digestive health are just a few benefits for children that eat their daily recommendation of fruits and vegetables.

Do you have a picky child? Here are a few tips to help them eat more fruits and vegetables:

  • Shop with them! Let them pick out the produce
  • Let them prepare the dishes, a child who makes a dish is more likely to eat it
  • Sneak pureed produce into your child’s favorite foods
  • Stock kid-level shelves in the fridge with baggies of cut-up veggies and fruits

Where to buy fresh fruits and vegetables:

Local grocery stores will house all types of produce, with a variety of in season, as well. That being said, sometimes our participants don’t live close to a grocery store that houses fresh produce, or they aren’t affordable.

That is where New Roots, Fresh Stop Markets come in. These markets are bi-weekly fresh food markets that “pop up” at local churches, community centers, and housing authorities. Community members purchase shares of 10-12 seasonal produces in advance and pick them up at the markets closest to them. Families on WIC need only pay $6 for this opportunity! Not on WIC but have limited resources, you pay just $12. The rest of the community is welcome to take part for $25. For Louisville based markets, the contact information is (502)-509-6770.

Other ideas we share with our participants include splitting the cost of produce with a friend or neighbor. A lot of produce come in large enough sizes where a family of two or three can easily split with another family of two or three. Families are also encouraged to join our Café Nights that occur every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. We have teamed up with Dare to Care to provide all participants and their children with a healthy, free meal that include a fruit and vegetable.

How to store fresh fruits and vegetables:

Here are a few printable charts that detail how and where to store, how long to keep, and how to clean your produce:

Always talk to your doctor and your child’s doctor before changing diets.

More resources:

Being Environmentally Conscious

This past Sunday, June 5th, marked the 42nd World Environment Day. This day was created to bring awareness and action for the protection of our environment. Family Scholar House has taken many initiatives to be more environmentally conscious and now we are going to share how we have been, along with providing our readers with more information on how anyone can start building a better tomorrow.

Why it’s important:

According to Conserve Energy Future, being environmentally friendly is: “having a lifestyle that is better for the environment. It’s all about taking those small steps towards making a better community for ourselves and generations to come.”

Simply put, our environment needs to be taken care. We utilize the resources that Mother Nature provides so we have a responsibility to take care of her in return, which allows future generations to continue utilizing the resources. Our current habits are dwindling our natural resources faster than they can be replaced, so we can start taking small steps that make a huge difference.

What Family Scholar House does for the environment:

  • We are expanding our recycling initiative– including placing recycle bins in all offices and buildings.
  • We encourage using reusable dishes with all campuses and offices (instead of paper and plastic).
  • We conserve energy in several ways- we have motion sensory lights, as to save electricity when the spaces are not in use and our building thermostats are pre-programmed.
  • Our Downtown campus has a green roof– Green roofs offer several benefits but most importantly to our community, green roofs reduce the amount of storm water runoff and also delay the time at which runoff occurs, resulting in decreased stress on sewer systems.
  • Downtown has a Bioswale– These are landscape elements designed to filter out contaminants from surface runoff water by natural means, including vegetation and soil.
  • T main campus has a roof top garden and Stoddard Johnston campus has a herb garden– we utilize all grown vegetation in our cooking classes and Café Nights.

Ways to become more mindful about the environment:

  • Conserve water- make sure the dishwasher is full before starting a load and take quicker showers.
  • Buy recycled/recyclable products- and actually recycle them!
  • Consume less energy- turn lights off, pre-program your thermostats, unplug unnecessary appliances.
  • Eat locally grown fruits and vegetables, or explore the option of gardening your own!
  • Join environmental groups to combat air pollution and begin projects in your community.
  • Create less waste– recycling really helps here!
  • Plant trees- this could be a fun family project.
  • Drive less and walk more- just remember, every bit counts!

Get started:

Recycling is one of the easiest ways to get started. Here is how to get started in Louisville!

  • Go to
  • Look up if recycling can be picked up at your house- if it can, request a bin and start recycling!
  • If recycling cannot be picked up at your curbside, look to find the closest drop-off site. You simply fill your recycle bin and drop it off at the location. It’s an extra step, but the effort goes a long way.
  • Also, don’t forget to make it fun! Children are more likely to make an effort if you explain the importance as well as have some fun with it. Here are several ideas on how to make recycling fun with your children.

More information can be found here:

Good luck! Please share with us on Facebook how you are currently or plan to be more environmentally conscious, we love hearing from our readers.