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Single Mothers Find Home, Future at Catholic College
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Tuesday, October 5, 2010
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In a photo provided by the university, a mother and daughter read at their home in Pauly House.
DALLAS, Pa. (CNS)—Inside the bedrooms at Misericordia University's Rosary Hall, you'll find as many toys as textbooks. That's because the dorm is one of two buildings on campus for the exclusive use of the nine single mothers and their children enrolled in a university program called Women With Children.

The program—in its 10th year—offers low-income single mothers the opportunity to earn their bachelor's degree while providing on-campus, year-round free housing for them and their children. It offers significant financial aid, subsidized child care and a built-in support system that prepares them for life after graduation.

One of only seven such programs in the country, Women With Children aims to break the cycle of poverty that sometimes ensues when single women raise their children without the benefit of a college education.

"We saw firsthand how single mothers were constantly worrying about the well-being of their children,'' said Mercy Sister Jean Messaros, vice president of student affairs, who established the program. "The benefit of our program is that they can live on campus. They know where their children are."

"My life before the program was very different," said third-year biology major Jennifer Kates, who was homeless before entering the program with her daughter, Lissenda Sutton, then age 2. "Having a place to come home to feels really great."

The women live in two buildings on campus. Each student has her own bedroom and a nearby bedroom for her children. Household responsibilities and common areas—including playrooms, study spaces and kitchens—are shared.

That can be difficult, Kates admitted. "Everyone's from a different background and everyone has a different parenting style," she said. "It really helps you to learn to communicate and work with other people."

Students attend monthly meetings and participate in workshops on parenting, child development and communication skills. "It's helped so much in my personal and professional life," said Kates, who plans to enter dental school following graduation.

While living at Misericordia, the children (ages 2 to 12) are introduced to the rewarding experiences on a college campus. "The kids really love it," said Kates. "They love to come up to campus and interact with the students." The university's campus ministry hosts a weekly event for the children, giving their mothers a chance to study.

"It is wonderful to see moms and their children sitting down to complete homework together, or working together toward the dean's list," said program director Vicki Austin. "Women with Children graduates raise children who understand the opportunities that a college degree brings and expect to attend college when they graduate from high school. The impact made by this program on generations to come is outstanding."

"Our hope is that it will come full circle with their children and they will also attend college," said Sister Jean.

The program is funded through grants from private foundations, corporations, government agencies and contributions from the Dallas community.

According to the Higher Education Alliance for Residential Single Parent Programs, similar programs are in operation at six other U.S. colleges and universities, including the College of St. Mary in Omaha, Neb., which like Misericordia was founded by the Sisters of Mercy.

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