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Bridging the finance gap for students who are parents

At the Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Pulaski County.

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MARSHAYA ROUNTREE: Speaking at SPSF 101, an introduction to the public about the Single Parent Scholarship Fund. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • MARSHAYA ROUNTREE: Speaking at SPSF 101, an introduction to the public about the Single Parent Scholarship Fund.

Marshaya Rountree got pregnant at 19. She says it was because she wanted to "explore life." The Mills High School graduate had seen how tenuous life can be. When she was 9 years old, her mother was shot and killed on the way to the grocery store. Marshaya and her two sisters, ages 11 and 6, were in the car; her mother fell across Marshaya's lap after she was shot. Each child has dealt with their mother's death "in their own way," Marshaya said.

So Marshaya got a job working as a housekeeper at a nursing home and did a little modeling (she is tall and beautiful). Two years after graduating from high school she decided to go back to school. "My mom gave us her all. I wanted to give [my son] something greater," she said. "But I didn't know how hard it would be. I dropped out." At 20, she was made manager of the Payless Shoe Source where she worked. She thought, "If I can be manager at 20 there's no telling what I could do." Her son was old enough to be enrolled in a Head Start program and she returned to Pulaski Technical College, took an introductory psychology course, and "a light bulb went on": Her coursework helped her heal from her mother's death and set her on a path to more study in psychology. Her teachers urged her to continue her studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where she is now on track to graduate with honors. And for the first time, she is not working, able to "focus on school and my son."

Here's how Marshaya has made it: hard work, recognition by UALR in her potential, and the Single Parent Scholarship Fund. The $900 a semester she receives from the fund helps her with her utility bills and puts gas in her car. She no longer has to choose between going to class and going to work to pay the bills.

The Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Pulaski County is providing assistance to 46 students this year. The scholarship is not a handout: These students — this year including one father — must go through an interview process that Marshaya described to a group of interested people last week as "intense."

"I got emotional. I said, 'I don't want a handout. I want to be self-sufficient so my son can be self-sufficient.' "

To qualify, students must be low-income — all of the scholarship winners in Little Rock live below the federal poverty line. They must also be high achieving, maintaining a 2.5 grade point average. Because of these standards, 92 percent of scholarship recipients earn a certificate or a degree.

The SPSF doesn't just cut a check: It requires recipients to come to the office when they need money and to show why they need what they need. The money helps students make car payments, or pay cell phone bills — lifting that burden from single parents struggling to take care of children and better their lives.

It offers more than money, Program Director Brittany Richards said. SPSF pairs its recipients with mentors on campus; Marshaya said her mentors, John Faucett and Benjamin Kowal, both professors in the department of psychology, were "instrumental" to her success.

LORI LYNCH: Business partners like the scholarship program because students leave school prepared to work. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • LORI LYNCH: Business partners like the scholarship program because students leave school prepared to work.

The nonprofit also holds events for its single parents who "are craving for more social opportunities," and, with the assistance of sponsors like Walmart, holds workshops in budgeting, nutrition, cooking, resume writing, professional skills and dress and other classes. The scholarship fund is popular with the business community, Director Lori Lynch said, because its graduates leave college "qualified and ready to enter the workforce."

The Little Rock office holds SPSF 101, introductions to the public about Single Parent every Tuesday for people who want to engage with the nonprofit, either through donations or by networking. For more information or to donate, visit spsfpulaski.org or call 501-301-7773.

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