The Pope & Yell County affiliate of Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund is a nonprofit organization that, since 1990, has raised $23 million in order to award 40,000 scholarships to assist Arkansas’ single parents attending college. This scholarship fund helps single parents have the opportunity to attend college by providing support and a minimum scholarship of $700 per semester to recipients.
Sabra Bartlett is the Executive Director of the PYSPSF and she, along with a five-member board, assist approximately 30 single parent students per academic year. “Money is the number one reason single parents don’t make it through college. Our funds help fill that need. The money can be used for academic and non-academic expenses,” said Sabra.
Sabra, who runs the operation out of her home office, will celebrate her fourth year as executive director in July. “I had the opportunity to make a difference. The organization really spoke to me because my dad was a single parent, he raised me, and then I was a single parent. I understand the struggles from a child’s perspective and from a parent’s perspective. I think that helps me do my job better,” said Sabra. “I fell in love with it. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
The students in the program are academic achievers with many making the dean’s list and receiving other honors. Scholarship recipient Brandy Linker is a nursing student and single mother to her son, six-year-old Aiden. “Single parents make great students,” said Brandy. “They are so much more driven because they have a little one at home who needs them to succeed. Aiden is the reason I am in school right now.”
Brandy, who will graduate in December of 2016, has been on Arkansas Tech University’s dean’s list every semester, with a cumulative GPA of 3.969. “Even with all the schoolwork, the kids always come first. Being in college does not change the fact that I am a mom. Dinner still has to be served, and bedtime stories still have to be read. Everyone says ‘it must be so hard to do it all,’ and sometimes it is, but they are the reason you do it,” said Brandy.
Ambar Diaz is also a recipient of the scholarship and a parent of two children, Julio, age eight, and Amber Lee, age seven. “I am so proud of my kids. They work so hard in school,” said Ambar. “I want to set a good example for them by studying hard and getting my degree. They are the reason I decided to come back to college and major in nursing. I need to do this for them.”
Most single parents qualify for traditional financial aid but very often do not qualify for other funding sources like the Arkansas Academic Challenge because of enrollment requirements and less money allocated for nontraditional students. This scholarship aims to fill the need of these full time nontraditional students. “I would not be in school if it wasn’t for this scholarship,” said Ambar. “The members are like family. Anything you need they are there.”
The program goes beyond simply providing monetary assistance. The board offers additional support to the recipients, which is a value in itself according to Brandy. “It’s something we can rely on every semester, which I really value, but what I value more than the money is the support. My community recognizes I am struggling and I am doing something hard, and they do not just look down on me for being a single parent. There is so much empowerment and respect rather than embarrassment,” added Brandy. “This scholarship empowers us to be proud of being both single parents and students. It is so encouraging to know there are people who support you and want you to succeed. There is a stigma that comes with being a single parent; many people think you were oh so irresponsible. This scholarship says, ‘we are proud of you for changing your life for the better.’ That means so much.”
It means much to the River Valley community as well according to Sabra. ”People may assume we are just another human service agency, and, of course, we do serve people, people in great need, but we also offer a great advantage to the local economy. For example, picture one of our single parents. They are scraping by making $10-$12,000 a year to make ends meet. They are probably receiving food stamps, housing assistance, maybe free breakfast and lunch at school and daycare vouchers for the kids — all of which is being paid by us taxpayers. Now this same single parent comes to us and gets into college or a professional training program. We support them with small scholarships, around $700 a semester, and we help with professional and personal development workshops along the way.
Fast forward four or five years, even less if it is a technical certificate program, and you have an educated person who, depending on major, starts work at $40,000 a year. Now they are off public assistance, out of poverty and paying taxes just like the rest of us. They move to a bigger house, maybe over in Timberwood or Western Hills, eventually they will probably buy a house from Tabatha at Re/Max. They can afford to buy new furniture at Peter’s Family Living. They buy new clothes at Lavish or Belk and maybe a car from Phil Wright’s,” said Sabra. “See how this is working?”
It’s a huge return on investment said Sabra. “For a relatively small financial investment of around $7,000, plus some support from our wonderful volunteers, this parent is now making three to four times as much annually. The kids are doing better in school. The family is living in a healthier place. The kids are far more likely to complete high school and are already thinking of what college they want to attend one day.”
The affiliate also receives support from outside of the River Valley adding to the longtime positive effects for community, in addition to the recipients.
“For every dollar we raise locally, our state organization doubles it up to $14,000, and they send us grant money from larger statewide donors,” said Sabra. “That brings even more money into our local economy.
So we are good for the single parents, we are good for their kids, but we are also good for Tech, UACCM, and the business community who, in turn, will hire our graduates. It all comes full circle for the benefit of all of us,” said Sabra.
The recipients of this scholarship work extremely hard to balance and excel in both raising a family and gaining a degree said Sabra. ”These parents are not looking for a handout. We are so much more than that. We are a hand up. Sometimes we are the only support they have. With a 98 percent retention and graduation rate, our affiliate ranks as one of the highest in the state. We are more than just money. They can call me at any time. This is a mentor program, and they are like family. We do absolutely whatever we can to support them. If they need something, they call, day or night, it does not matter. We are available 24/7. Ambar recently needed help; I notified our board, and they blew up my email offering assistance. They were really rallying around and supporting her. They wanted to make sure she was okay, not only that she stayed in school, but that she was taken care of,” said Sabra.
One of the best ways for the community to support the Single Parent Scholarship Fund is by attending the 19th Annual Catfish Fry and Silent Auction. This year’s fundraiser will be at the Hughes Center on Thursday, July 28, from 5-7p.m. It will feature an all-you can-eat buffet of catfish, peel n’ eat shrimp and all the fixings, followed by a sundae bar, and over $10,000 worth of silent auction items donated by local businesses.
Tickets are available at the door, $20 dollars for adults, $10 for children and free for children six and under. All funds raised go directly to single parents in the River Valley. The catfish dinner is the biggest local fundraiser to support the scholarship fund.
“We really appreciate all the local businesses who donate to our cause,” said Sabra. “Our local community pitches in to make sure our fundraiser is the best, and they volunteer their time to put the whole event together. One of our greatest needs is for more individuals, businesses and corporations to donate to the fund through the event sponsorship.”
The scholarship fund hopes to expand their assistance to include scholarship money for summer terms, funding for part time students and increased amounts available for recipients.
More information on how to donate, volunteer and apply is available online at aspsf.org or call (479) 970-8800.