With a smile as sunny as the September skies above, Whitney Ballew looked out over the large crowd assembled at the dedication ceremony for the Eastern Scholar House on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University.
There was a time not that long ago that Ballew had about given up on her pursuit of a college degree, after having attended EKU and Bluegrass and Community and Technical College (BCTC). It took the support of her parents, Ballew’s desire to be a positive example for her “beautiful, strong, smart” son, and the completion of the Scholar House to restore her dream and bring her to the outdoor stage on Friday morning, Sept. 8.
“One of my biggest motivations was my son, Miles,” Ballew told the audience. “I wanted to show my son that you can still pursue your dreams.”
Ballew is only one of dozens of single parents who call the Scholar House home. They attend four different educational institutions – EKU, Berea College, Sullivan University and BCTC – but they could all tell similar stories of steely determination and renewed hope as the inaugural occupants of the 39-unit facility, located on Van Hoose Drive on the eastern periphery of campus.
Owned by Eastern Scholar House LLLP and operated by Kentucky River Foothills Development Council (KRFDC),the $10.5 million facility provides single-parent households access to housing, on-site child care and other services as the parent pursues a college degree. The program is open to eligible students enrolled full time in any approved post-secondary institution. Primarily funded by the Kentucky Housing Corporation and investment from Ohio Capital, the comprehensive program also features counseling, workshops and other activities and forms of support designed to help the head of household to reach self-sufficiency.
“From the moment I called, I knew this program was for me,” said Ballew, an industrial psychology major. “Everything I’ve ever needed, they’ve been right there.”
Kentucky River Foothills and an array of partners began working intently on the project last year. Primary among the project partners’ support are housing vouchers, access to a family self-sufficiency program, a block grant provided by the City of Richmond and Richmond Section 8 Housing, consultation and reporting provided by Fahe, and a long-term land lease for the property provided by EKU. Similar Scholar Houses in Kentucky are located in Lexington, Louisville, Bowling Green, Paducah, Owensboro and Pikeville.
Without the close collaboration of all those partners, “I wouldn’t be here,” Ballew said. “None of us would be here.”
EKU President Michael Benson, one of 10 speakers on the program, alluded to the many just-completed or ongoing construction projects on the Richmond campus. “None of those projects are more important than this one.”
Nodding to the Scholar House residents seated near the front, Benson added: “This is for you. This will change your life.”
Scholar House residents will also benefit from academic tutoring, financial literacy programming, employment assistance and access to community-based services. They can also choose from among programs related to parenting skills, management of family resources, nutrition, work skills, job search techniques and problem solving.
Pre-school children must be enrolled in the on-site child development center, allowing time for the parents to attend classes and focus on their education. Child development services will be administered through the agency’s Early Head Start/Head Start program. The child development facility includes five classrooms, staff offices, meeting space, a playground and a computer lab.
Each two-bedroom apartment includes a washer/dryer, dishwasher, storage space, and a designated parking space. Housing and childcare are income based. Winterwood Inc. is providing the property management and ensuring the program’s compliance with funding regulations.
Priority for Eastern Scholar House program admission is given to:
· Heads of households who are at least 18 years of age.
· Single parentswith primary custody of child/children.
· Degree-seeking full-time students at an approved post-secondary institution such as EKU, University of Kentucky, BCTC, Berea College, Morehead State University and others.
Participants agree to meet monthly with a case manager to develop (and later monitor progress on) Individualized Service Plans, attend monthly life skills workshops and meetings to promote the achievement of educational goals resulting in self-sufficiency and either work or participate in approved volunteer experience while enrolled in the program.
Families must be eligible for Section 8 subsidized housing.
Inset photo: Scholar House resident Colleen Martin and child.