Family Scholar Houses change single parents’ lives

Aug 11, 2021 | News

By Erian Bradley

A 21-year-old college student is sitting on her couch in her apartment reading her accounting textbook


Arianna Smith and her son are celebrating a birthday together at the scholar house event.

while studying for a test she has soon. Her 3-year-old son walks in the room holding his favorite Superman toy asking for some milk.

Arianna Smith was 18 and still a freshman at the University of Louisville when she first found out that she

was pregnant. She immediately went to a clinic to take a pregnancy test.

“When the doctor came back in she asked my best friend to leave. Instantly I knew what she was going to tell me,” said Smith. “The doctor said ‘well the second line was very faint but you’re gonna be a mommy.’”

One year later, Smith started to look for a new place to live. She hoped to find a safer area for her son,

Malachi, to grow up in.  She heard from someone at University of Louisville that there was a program for single parents, where she could get housing if she attended college.

Smith isn’t the only single-parent who needed a helping hand. A non-profit organization in Louisville is continuing to change single parents lives by providing housing to motivate them to finish college.

The Family Scholar House located in Louisville, started in 1995 and was formerly called “Project Women.” It was founded by religious women who saw the needs of women and children not being met and started the organization.

The CEO of the Family Scholar House, Cathe Dykstra, said 98 percent of Family Scholar House students participate without a repeat pregnancy, 61 percent continue education, and 76 percent have stable employment. In an interview with KET, Dykstra talked about how important the organization is and why they help the many people they do. 

“Any opportunity we have to lift a family out of poverty, multiple families out of poverty, and then bolster the economy of a whole community, is a opportunity that I want to explore,” Dykstra said.

The Louisville Scholar House was the first location to open in 2008, with a partnership with the University of Louisville’s College of Education and Human Development. The organization has added three more locations since then: the Downtown Scholar House, Stoddard Johnston Scholar House, and Parkland Scholar House. In 2015, Family Scholar House had a record of 53 college graduates with an average GPA of 2.92.

Smith lives at the Stoddard Johnston Scholar House while she attends University of Louisville as an accounting major. She said the process of getting into the scholar house was long.

“After the orientation I began building my points to get to the top of the waiting list,” said Smith. “I attended café nights, events, and checked in every week to build my points.”

Before the Family Scholar House, Smith lived in an income-based housing in a dangerous neighborhood where her son couldn’t even play outside, she said.

“My lease was up, and I got into the Scholar House two months after I had to get out of my other apartment,” said Smith. “I was so relieved.”

The place that Smith lives in now is a roomy two-bedroom apartment with stainless steel kitchen appliances. Not only is the apartment nicer than her other apartment but it has two bathrooms, one for her and one for her son, which she said she greatly appreciates.

According to Kentucky Housing Corporation, the Family Scholar House is a housing and education initiative that helps people reach self-sufficiency and gears them towards graduating from college.

Harvetta Broadway Ray, campus coordinator for the Family Scholar House, said that to start the process one must complete an intake, get scheduled for an orientation to complete paperwork, and hear in detail more about the program. She said that once someone attends orientation, they must attend workshops to accumulate points to move up on the housing waiting list.

The process of getting identified for housing includes a series of assessments before being referred to the property management to complete housing paperwork. Ray said the process varies in time based on the participation and turning in the proper paperwork and proof of full-time employment.

“I began as an intern in 2010, and I’ve loved this organization ever since,” Ray said.

Ray has worked with many mothers trying to make sure they get all the support they can from the Family Scholar House.

Ray said the program helps single parents to find their way. There are many services like family support services, and academic services that most of their participants qualify for. Being in a scholar house has helped them to get in the door.

“I believe that the services that we provide assists single-parents in eliminating barriers to getting a college degree. Having someone around who supports, provides them with tools and believes in them is what gives them the confidence to continue their educational journey,” said Ray.

The residential requirements are to maintain a 2.0 GPA, be full-time college student, attend two academic support meetings per month and 12 family support services meetings per month, perform four hours of community service per month, attend one workshop per month, deposit $10 per month in a future fund, and attend mandatory meetings.

Another student who has participated in the Scholar House programs is Briana Smith, a single mother and a junior at WKU.

Briana attended Western Kentucky University in the Fall of 2013 as a freshman, then a semester later she found out she was pregnant. She went back home to be with her family and to work to take care of her and her child.

“I was freaked out…and I thought my life was over,” Smith said. “But my adviser at WKU told me about the scholar house in Louisville, and I felt a little relieved.”

Briana has experience with two different scholar houses. When she returned home, she got into the Parkland Scholar House where she went through the same process as Arianna. She attended Jefferson County Technical College, but didn’t like the atmosphere of a two-year college. She said she missed campus-life.

“I didn’t think that college was for me, I missed WKU and the feeling I had when I was on campus,” said Briana.

Briana decided that she wanted to go back to WKU, and she asked her counselor at the scholar house if there was another scholar house in Bowling Green. Luckily there was and she called to get more information to get into the program.

“The Scholar House in Bowling Green is significantly different than the Louisville Scholar Houses,” said Briana. “They’re not as strict when you’re in, and it was a little easier because of the fast paperwork.”

Briana had to go to an orientation and then she submitted some paperwork to get into the program as quickly as possible. Since she’s been living in the scholar house, she has been able to work and give her daughter Cali a proper place to stay.

Briana said that she goes to school full-time and works part-time to pay the bills. The Bowling Green scholar house pays for her electricity, water, and daycare. She said in Louisville there were more expenses that she had to pay for including a $250 deposit that all scholar houses require.

“I only pay 30 percent of my income for my rent, which helps me tremendously to be able to pay for other things me and my child need,” Briana said.

Since Briana has been in the program she said she has better grades, better stability for housing, and a better chance at a future in medical services. She said she feels more prepared in life and hopes her daughter sees how hard she has worked to get them where they are.

“I do know that if I wasn’t in this program I’m not sure I would have gone back to college, this program is the best thing out there for single-parents,” said Briana.

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