Every night before going to bed, single mom Mikayla Reese lies down next to her 4-year-old daughter, Nyla, to read a book or talk about their day. Reese asks Nyla about daycare, what she did, what she ate. She sets an alarm for five minutes so Nyla knows when it’s time to turn out the lights and go to sleep.
Reese, 23, and Nyla live in a two-bedroom apartment at the One Parent Scholar House, a Lexington-based agency that provides housing and childcare for single parents as they take classes to earn a degree.
“There’s pretty much no way that I could go to school full time and work enough to be able to provide housing for myself and take care of my daughter,” said Reese, who graduated from the University of Kentucky in May with a master’s degree in social work. The scholar house “allows me to be independent and live on my own.”
Originally named Virginia Place, One Parent Scholar House opened on Virginia Avenue in 1986 with 15 apartments. Nearly a decade later, the agency relocated to Horseman’s Lane to accommodate the need for more space for childcare and additional residents.
Since its opening, the house has grown to include 80 apartments, currently with 78 single moms and two single dads in the program.
Funding comes from grants, city funds and private contributors, said Program Director Mirsada Simic. Residents must be eligible for a government subsidized Section 8 Housing and do not pay out of pocket, she said.
The Kentucky Housing Corporation lists five other scholar houses in Kentucky, with One Parent Scholar House as the model program. Simic said One Parent Scholar House is the only one that owns and operates a child development center on site, which, she said, is a main component to the program’s success.
“We see the families every day, we see the children every day, so we can kind of see what’s going on with the family,” she said.
Reese has been a resident in the program for four years. She grew up in Lexington and graduated from Henry Clay High School in 2011 and went to Morehead State University to play volleyball on a scholarship. When she decided she didn’t want to play volleyball anymore, she moved back to Lexington and made plans to transfer to the University of Kentucky.
During the summer before beginning at UK, Reese found out she was pregnant.
“I was not expecting to get pregnant,” Reese said. “Me and her father, we had been together for three years, so it wasn’t just random, but I definitely wasn’t expecting it.”
Reese was worried people would look at her differently and shied away from telling anyone, she said.
“One of my friends forced me to tell her when I was eight months pregnant, because I hadn’t said anything,” she said.
Some of her friends distanced themselves from her during the pregnancy, and her boyfriend at the time, Nyla’s father, moved away, she said.
But Reese remained in school while pregnant, taking classes at UK and living in an apartment near campus. She gave birth to Nyla right before spring break and only missed one week of classes.
Reese’s mother, Sharon Grider, said her daughter had always been bright and never needed a push toward education. Though Reese’s early-age pregnancy wasn’t something her mother had envisioned for her, Grider said she knew Reese wouldn’t put her life on hold because of it.
“The key to her success, she feels and the way I feel, was through education,” Grider said. “She was not going to stop her education because of having a baby. As a matter of fact, it was more important for her to continue her education so that she could take care of herself and the child.”
The summer following her first year at UK, Reese applied to the One Parent Scholar House program, which she heard about from a childhood friend.
At 19, Reese and her 5-month-old baby moved into one of the program’s apartments. During the school year, Reese would drop off Nyla at daycare before she went to class. If she had night class, Reese would have her parents watch Nyla while she was gone.
“I can’t imagine our lives without Nyla,” Grider said. “She’s been a joy to both sides of her family, and that’s something that you can’t take back.”
If she weren’t living at the scholar house, Reese said she would probably be living with her parents.
“I love my parents, but you know, you don’t necessarily want to be living in the same home with them after being gone away for college,” Reese said. “I don’t think I would be as happy. It would be a lot harder for me to do what I’m doing now and have that independence.”
Simic said she and the other three administrators meet once a month with residents.
The best part of her job, Simic said, is graduation. This year, the program saw 23 residents graduate, with 14 children graduating preschool to go into kindergarten. After finishing graduate school in May, Reese is looking for a job in a middle or high school as a guidance counselor.
Simic said she’s always encouraged to hear residents talk about their experience in the program at graduation.
“We see the end product of this program with people like Mikayla,” Simic said, “someone who is getting a college degree, who’s going to take care of her child, who’s going to be a self-sufficient, productive member of society.”
Emma Austin: (859) 231-1455