For Mariele Ballew, getting a college degree is no longer just about bettering herself.
“It’s about me getting a job to help my son, and to pay for his college one day,” said Ballew, the single mom of a 3-year-old boy.
Ballew, a freshman at Eastern Kentucky University, will live with her son at the Eastern Scholar House this fall, where housing, childcare and educational support will be easily accessible for her.
Opening in July, the scholar house is a place where single parents can live at little cost as they earn degrees at an accredited college or university, said Karen Atkins, public information director at Kentucky River Foothills Development Council. The scholar house was created out of a partnership with the Kentucky River Foothills Development Council, a community action agency that provides services to help families become self-sufficient, the Kentucky Housing Corporation, which operates other scholar houses in Kentucky, and several other public and private sector partners.
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The total cost of the project is about $10.5 million, with $8.4 million supplied by the Kentucky Housing Corporation.
Although the program is located on Eastern Kentucky University’s campus, it is “not limited to EKU students” and aims to serve students in the Eastern Kentucky region, said Vicki Jozefowicz, executive director of the Kentucky River Foothills Development Council. Most students who have applied to the program are attending Bluegrass Community and Technical College, EKU and the University of Kentucky.
The program is leasing the land, which was formerly a parking lot, from EKU for $1 a year, Atkins said.
The program prioritizes providing housing and childcare for full-time students who are single parents with primary custody of their child, Atkins said. There is no age restriction, and there has been a “range of folks who have applied,” Jozefowicz said.
Ballew, who will live in one of 39 two-bedroom apartments with her son, is working toward a degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and taking summer classes for her degree.
“When I first started at EKU, I was intimidated,” Ballew said. “I was older than most freshman students and I was not involved as much on campus.”
As a single parent, it can feel like “everything is on you,” she said, but the scholar house program has helped her build a community of support.
“Talking to different women and different parents, I’m not the only one who feels that way,” Ballew said. “We can motivate each other ... we’re going to make it, we’re going to graduate.”
The program will have three new apartment buildings and a childcare development center. Each apartment includes a kitchen, living room area and laundry facilities. The first building will open July 15, with the next two buildings opening on Aug. 1 and Aug. 15. The childcare center also is expected to open in August.
“We want the folks to be proud to live here,” Jozefowicz said.
Enrollment in the childcare center, which is funded through the federal Head Start and Early Head Start programs, will be required for children up to the age of 5. The cost of childcare will be based on the participant’s income, but “there is nothing a parent has to provide,” as far as diapers and other supplies, Jozefowicz said.
Participants in the program will be required to maintain full-time enrollment and a 2.0 grade point average. Also, they will be responsible for paying a small portion of rent. Jozefowicz said rent payments would be determined by federal subsidized housing standards, where “roughly 30 percent of their income goes to paying rent.”
Priority is given to applicants who are eligible for Section 8 subsidized housing, Jozefowicz said.
“Our goal is to help them keep expenses down as much as we can,” she said.
Participants in the program will not be allowed to work more than 20 hours per week in order to help participants “balance being a parent and working,” Jozefowicz said.
Among applicants, the childhood development center has attracted the most interest.
“You’re helping two generations,” Jozefowicz said. “You’re helping them move toward self-sufficiency … it really is a great program.”
Monica Kast: 859-231-1320, @monicakastwku
Kentucky’s scholar houses
The Kentucky Housing Corp. helps fund seven other scholar houses for single parents.
▪ One Parent Scholar House in Lexington has 80 two-bedroom and eight three-bedroom apartments.
▪ The Family Scholar House has four locations in Louisville, with housing for more than 200 students.
▪ The Bowling Green Scholar House has 56 two-bedroom apartments.
▪ The Scholar House of Paducah opened in 2012 with 48 apartments.
▪ The Learning Villa, located in Owensboro, has 56 two-bedroom apartments.
▪ The Scholar House of Central Appalachia, located in Pikeville, has 45 apartments.
▪ The Northern Kentucky Scholar House has 42 two-bedroom apartments and six three-bedroom apartments.